March 5, 2015

Attempt to bypass committees on right-to-work fails

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New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons

An effort to bypass the committee process for right-to-work legislation failed on a party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday afternoon.

DSC_0044Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle asked to move the right-to-work legislation to a committee of the whole instead of going through the traditional committee process and the three committees to which it was assigned.

The bill was ultimately assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have complained that the right-to-work legislation has yet to be heard since passing the state House on a near-party-line vote.

The chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be heard on Sunday and invited all the Senators to attend.

Republicans acknowledged that it was not how things are usually done in the Senate but said it was not against the rules. They argued that the legislation is important enough to do things differently.

“There is a change of procedures in the Senate, but not an unlawful change of procedures,” Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said.

“It doesn’t violate any of our concerns about the committee process not working,” Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, noted that the last time they voted to send something to a committee of the whole without unanimous support was in 2004, for the food tax. Wirth said that this was a decision they would later regret.

“I think that the reason this body works so well together is that because together we hold the process,” Wirth said.

Wirth also recalled his time in the House of Representatives and said he appreciated that the Senate does not typically “blast” legislation out of committees as has become more common in the House in recent years.

Republicans said that the legislation was popular and would impact the entire state. They also said that the legislation has significant public interest, so it should be seen by as many people as possible.

“We shouldn’t shuffle things away into some small committee room,” Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said. He said that they should instead open it up to as many people as possible.

“The bar is being set way too low if we’re going to take an issue out of our normal committee procedure and do this,” Ortiz y Pino said of this argument. He said that they did not try to bypass committees when a constitutional amendment to tap the state Land Grand Permanent Fund was bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, has been a vocal proponent of not bypassing committees.

Ultimately, Democrats held to their pledge to not bypass the committee process. Conservative Democrats John Arthur Smith of Deming and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces each said in a press conference that they respected the committee process.

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