December 8, 2015

2015 Recap: Legislative session kicked into high gear in February

The Legislative session really kicked into gear in February of this year, with the House pushing out a large amount of Gov. Susana Martinez’ priorities.

There still was time for a few non-breaking news features, however.

Note: Each weekday from here through December 22, we will be looking back at the top stories from each month here at NM Political Report. These could be the most-read stories, some interesting stories that didn’t get much attention or just plain important stories.

Previous recap: January.

RoundhouseOne of the features examined how the Catholic leadership in the state is able to form alliances with both political parties—and how their lobbyist can say things that other lobbyists wouldn’t dream of saying.

Another feature was an interview with Nick Pinto, the author of a report in Rolling Stone that examined Albuquerque Police Department’s recent past that led to the U.S. Department of Justice intervention.

But, of course, the month was dominated by news from the legislative session.

The first couple of weeks of legislative sessions, especially in the years with 60-day sessions, tend to be setting the stage for later fireworks.

The fireworks started to fly in earnest in February of this year, including the House sending over their budget proposal.

Legislation with strict regulations on abortion clearing House committees after hours of impassioned testimony on each side.

We also highlighted quotes from 1979 and 1981 and compared them to quotes from 2015.

And the nomination of Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera finally took place but not before some scathing criticism, largely from Democrats.

Early in the month, a House committee tabled bills by Democrats to raise the minimum wage, though the issue would come back later in the session; in a controversial move, House Republicans tied a minimum wage increase to right-to-work legislation.

NM Political Report spoke to experts on the right-to-work legislation in a video before the efforts started in earnest. There was so much interest in right-to-work that the public comment pushed back the initial vote by the House Judiciary Committee; the committee passed the legislation later, as did the full House.

Meanwhile, advocates rallied against the repeal of a law that allows those who are in the country illegally to earn driver’s licenses. Still, the repeal headed the House floor and eventually passed, but not before the Republican majority killed what Democrats called a compromise; expect to hear about that vote as we head to another showdown on the legislation in the upcoming session..

It may have been because of inexperience from the leadership, but the House majority had to do a very strange thing and blast a bill out of committee just a day after the House agreed to send it to that committee by unanimous consent. The full House then passed the legislation (third grade retention).

Another education proposal, merit pay, caused Democrats to walk out in protest before a vote they were destined to lose anyway.

On a national level, the question of vaccinating children became front page news after a measles outbreak. Locally, it was no different with health officials sounding warnings. The congressional delegation backed vaccinating children for the potentially deadly diseases. Dr. Barry Ramo went a step further and said that not vaccinating your children is a form of child abuse.

The marijuana legalization effort fizzled as the first House committee to hear it voted to table. Days later, the Senate Rules Committee actually passed a similar piece of legislation—a first in the state’s history. Reduced penalties for marijuana possession saw a Senate committee give it the OK.

Open government advocates once again saw a proposal to archive webstreams go down, but the House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved streaming of interim committee hearings.

It was a busy month for members of the delegation to address a joint session of the Legislature; Reps. Steve Pearce, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan all spoke to the Legislature, as did Sen. Tom Udall.

Oh yeah, and the author of the book series that served as the basis for the highly popular “Game of Thrones” HBO show made his way to the Roundhouse. Luckily, he was not attending a wedding.

Speaking of TV, a reported fracas between reporter Stuart Dyson and anchor Tom Joles was the talk of the Roundhouse for a couple of days, though the station’s general manager denied there was a fight.

But the video highlight of the session was, as always, Sen. John Pinto, D-Gallup, singing The Potato Song.