March 2, 2015

House, Senate leadership spar over assigning legislation

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RoundhouseThe latest in the perennial feud between the House and Senate came on Monday with an exchange of letters between the House Majority Leader and the Senate Majority Leader.

Tensions between the House and Senate in a legislative session are nothing new, but they could be exaggerated by the split in parties in power this year, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate.

In a letter from Monday morning, House Majority leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, wrote that he was upset that “the New Mexico Senate has allowed certain House bill to languish for up to three weeks before they are assigned to a committee.” Gentry said this reduced the chances of the bills passing the Senate.

Among those pieces of legislation Gentry wrote “have been held up for an extraordinarily long time” are legislation related to third grade retention and a bill to bar undocumented immigrants from obtaining New Mexico driver’s licenses. These have been pieces of legislation that are priorities of Gov. Susana Martinez and the new Republican majority.

In the letter in response to Gentry’s letter, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said that Senate legislation was not always promptly assigned to House committees as claimed by Gentry.

“Senate bills have been introduced in the House from two days to eleven days after their passage by the Senate,” Sanchez wrote, citing Bill Locator reports.

Sanchez said the only Senate bill that has been heard in the House so far was a coyote-killing contest ban that was tabled in a House committee last week. He wrote that Senate committees have a history of hearing Senate legislation ahead of House legislation.

The letter from Gentry to Sanchez was distributed to the media on Monday morning. It is available at the bottom of this post, as is the afternoon response from Sanchez to Gentry.

“We may not agree on everything,” Gentry wrote. “But one thing we can surely agree on is that the people of New Mexico sent us to Santa Fe to make tough decisions—to work diligently to find solutions to the challenges facing New Mexico.”

“I am disappointed that you felt the need to share your concerns with the press before giving me an opportunity to respond directly to you,” Sanchez wrote.

Earlier in the session, Sanchez was upset that the House had not been hearing joint memorials that had passed the Senate.

Two of the pieces of legislation referenced in Gentry’s letter received committee assignments, though not favorable ones.



Conventional wisdom says three committee assignments is difficult to overcome, especially as time winds down in the legislative session.

In 2013, Sanchez was upset that the House was not hearing Senate legislation. This was when the House was controlled by a narrow majority of Democrats.

“I was just told by your chairman of House Appropriations (Henry “Kiki” Saavedra) that they’re not going to hear any Senate bills because we’re not hearing any House bills,” Sen. Sanchez said during the Senate Public Affairs Committee hearing.

“So I’m going to ask our chairmen to stop hearing any bills. The game’s on. So if you guys want to play the game, we’ll play the game. I’m really upset about it … We’ve been hearing House bills for a couple days if not longer. So if the chairman of House Appropriations wants to play the game, I’ll move all the House bills down to the floor and put them on the president’s table.”

The House and Senate patched that disagreement up later on the same day.

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