Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

1-4 NM Legislature better than Congress

10413 legis1

SANTA FE – What can a guy believe in anymore? The world didn't end like it was supposed to 10 days ago. Now we learn the fiscal cliff is more like a slope with numerous opportunities for correction as soon as tea partiers learn the advantages of compromise.
New Mexicans can be proud, however, that despite its faults, our state legislature really has its act together compared with Congress.
State lawmakers know that on the third Tuesday in January, they leave their day jobs and go to Santa Fe to make big decisions regarding the state. Since January begins on a Tuesday, Jan. 15 is the earliest a session can begin.
But New Mexico lawmakers will be ready. A few years ago they passed legislation allowing any legislator to pre-file a bill up to a month ahead of the Legislature's start. Fifty-nine bills, memorials and resolutions had been prefiled as of Jan. 1. Anyone can read the proposed legislation by going to
Interim legislative committees now study problems facing the state and draft legislation to correct those problems. Many of the prefiled bills are from interim committees.
In some cases, voters will approve constitutional amendments that require legislative enactment in order to make them work and to fill in the details. Three voter-approved amendments from last November involve major changes in the always controversial Public Regulation Commission.
The powerful body never has seemed to attract the quality of individuals needed for such a complex job. It is a haven for good politicians who like the $90,000 the job pays.
Consequently, when given the opportunity on last November's ballot, voters overwhelmingly made changes transferring authority from the commission and establishing a college degree and work experience in an area regulated by the PRC.
But remember, the Legislature is composed of 112 politicians, some of whom may have their eyes on one of the five commission seats. Expect much legislative maneuvering before those qualifications are set.
What should we expect from this new Legislature? It's hard to tell. Thirty of the 112 are new this year – quite a bit more than usual. For the first time ever, the governor got publicly involved in legislative races on both sides of the aisle.
Gov. Susana Martinez's highest-level involvement was in trying to defeat Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell and Democratic Floor Leader Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen.
She defeated Jennings but Sanchez was reelected by a wide margin. The word among legislative insiders is that Gov. Martinez shot the wrong guy. Jennings is forgiving. Sanchez isn't. Expect though times for the governor in the Senate.
Gov. Martinez will be back with her signature issues, which include ceasing the issuance of driver's licenses to undocumented aliens and not passing third-graders on to fourth grace unless they meet minimum reading requirements. Both issues failed in past years. Did Martinez make enough legislative changes in the recent elections to improve her chances? It doesn't look good for her.
With many new lawmakers and increased animosity caused by the governor's involvement in several races, those hoping for few changes from the 2013 Legislature are whistling a happy tune. One longtime corporate lobbyist told me today the he has two new partners for this session – chaos and confusion.
The one bright spot for the governor in the Senate is that Republican lawmakers kept their same leadership. Stu Ingle, a farmer from near Portales, will keep the Republican leadership post he has held for years. Ingle is soft-talking, level-headed and tends to keep sparks from flying. Those are not qualities, however, that the governor wants to see from GOP leaders. She is reported to want Ingle out of his leadership post and out of the Senate. She didn't succeed but Ingle likely will continue to work with her.
It doesn't sound especially good for New Mexicans but it's a darn sight better than what's happening in Washington.


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