September 30, 2016

Special session off to a testy start

Even before the House and Senate are scheduled to meet at noon Friday, the high tensions between the two parties was evident, previewing what promises to be a bare-knuckle brawl of a special session.

The special session is necessary to fix a budget deficit of over $500 million between the current fiscal year and the already-ended fiscal year. The special session will also feature a handful of high profile crime bills.

It was these bills that drew the ire of House Democrats, especially since the bills would be heard in committee hour half an hour after the floor session.

“The first thing that this House seeks to do is seek reinstatement of the death penalty. That is the number one priority, apparently,” House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. “I just think the priorities are misplaced.”

The death penalty reinstatement is third on the agenda for the House Judiciary Committee (with the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee sitting in, but not voting). The previous two bills were the expansion of the state’s three strikes law and expanding the state’s law for intentional abuse of a child from ages 12 to 18.

House Floor Majority Leader Nate GEntry said that order was intentional.

“So that the individuals that you mentioned can have the opportunity to read that bill and review it,” Gentry said.

The two bills preceding the death penalty in committee, Gentry said, were identical to the bills brought forward during this year’s regular legislative session.

Egolf said that the House should be debating the budget situation instead of these crime bills.

Pre-session criticism

House Democrats, advocates and union members gathered two hours before the scheduled start of the special session to discuss the budget and what impact cuts would have.

When the crime bills, including reinstating the death penalty and expanding the state’s “three strikes” law, were mentioned, it was to say they were a distraction.

Egolf said the bills were brought up for “Purely political reasons to attempt to distract the state.”

Republicans declined to comment on the Democrats’ assertions.

NM Political Report reached out to a spokeswoman for the House Republicans to speak to a Republican following the House Democrats’ press conference, but no interview was set up before this publication.

The budget itself won’t be an easy fix, as the two sides remain far apart on where the money should be taken from.

House Democrats asked the funding for the Children, Youth and Families Department be spared from the budgetary axe. Newly-appointed state Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, said that veterans services also should not be cut.

Egolf mentioned delaying corporate income tax cuts as one way to fix the budget, but said that Republicans have already said this off the table. He also mentioned below-the-line spending at the Public Education Department as one area where cuts could be made without impacting per-pupil spending.

Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, have opposed any tax increases.

Money in the PED budget that is below-the-line goes towards programs at the department and do not have to follow the state’s school funding formula.

Still, members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee were able to come together to pass one bill: the feed bill, required to pay for the special session itself. The feed bill budgeted enough for three days of work.

If the special session goes beyond three days, legislators would need to approve further spending on the feed bill.

Odds and Ends

  • Each chamber has one new member. The Senate formally swore Jim White, R-Sandia Park, into office, while the House did the same for Harry Garcia. Governor Martinez appointed Garcia to replace Ken Martinez, who resigned earlier this year. Garcia was later formally sworn into office. She appointed White to replace Sue Wilson Beffort, who also left office earlier this year.
  • Reps. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, and Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, had two bills entered in. One, legalizing recreational marijuana, was assigned to the Rules Committee. The other, to limit capital gains deductions from net income, was assigned to the Regulation and Public Affairs Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. None of these committees are likely to meet during the special session.