February 10, 2016

House actions on Senate bills draw condemnation


New Mexico State Senate.

The State Senate slammed the House majority, accusing the House on Wednesday of “playing games” for taking an “unprecedented” move on legislation that passed the Senate.

New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons


New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons

The friction comes over a disagreement between both bodies of what types of legislation are considered “germane,” or allowed to be discussed this year. The 2016 legislative session is a budget-only session, meaning in order to be considered germane, bills must be related to the state budget or must receive a message from the governor.

The governor can call bills unrelated to the budget to the calendar if she so decides by issuing messages, which makes them germane.

House Rules and Order of Business Committee is disputing bills deemed germane by the Senate, saying that they are not germane according to the state constitution. These disputed bills have been passed by the Senate.

House Rules and Order of Business chair, Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, told the Senate about the new House policy in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

The letter says, “If a Message of the Governor specifies a unique Legislative Council Service drafting number (a 202 number) a bill so drafted with this unique number shall be deemed Germane; a Bill introduced on the general subject of the Message but without the unique drafting number shall be deemed not Germane.”

Sanchez said the letter was a first. .

“This is the first time in anyone’s memory that the other chamber has not only questioned the other chamber’s determination that legislation is germane, but actually said it would not honor the other chamber’s determination,” Sanchez said.

The condemnation of the letter was bipartisan.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in my 32 years here,” Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said. “And I’ve been here when my side of the aisle controlled things and I’ve been here when, a little more than I’d like, when the other side controls everything.”

Democrats in the House brought up the issue as well, with Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, criticizing the proposal and asking for an explanation.

“I just raise the issue so the matter can be brought in front of the body,” Egolf said.

Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said that there would be a meeting of leadership from both chambers—including Egolf.

Tripp said the letter was to show the House would “follow what is posted in our Constitution about what was germane and what was not.”

The relevant section of the state constitution is Article IV, Sec. 5, B.

Every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall consider only the following: (1) budgets, appropriations and revenue bills; (2) bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor; and (3) bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

After Egolf spoke on the floor, House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, walked to Egolf and they held a conversation at Egolf’s desk.

NM Political Report reached out to a spokeswoman for the House Majority but did not receive a response by press time.

Democrats in the Senate were the most vocal in their displeasure.

“I’m not elected to play a Republican or Democrat game,” Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, said. “I’m elected to be here to represent people from my county and my district that matter. If they want to play games with the bills, fine.”

Munoz is carrying one of the bills that was sent to the House Rules Committee after being deemed germane by the Senate.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said the House was giving up some of their authority to Governor Susana Martinez.

“‘What is wrong with this Legislature that an entire body of this Legislature will say they don’t have a brain and they don’t have a spine of their own?” McSorley asked. “It’s pretty disgusting. It’s pretty anti-democratic.”

Past leeway

This would be a massive change from the last 30-day session in 2014. Following the 2014 legislative session, Martinez said she would have supported an $8.00 per hour minimum wage. The House, under control of Democrats at the time, did not take up minimum wage because she did not issue any messages to the chamber.

However, the Senate deemed a minimum wage increase bill by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, germane.

“I was willing to message it but because it was ruled germane rather quickly by Rules Committee it was unnecessary for me to do so,” she told reporters at her post-session press conference in 2016. The Committee on Committees makes that determination in the Senate.