February 7, 2023

Legislation to modernize Legislature, expand sessions clear first committee

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A House committee heard two proposals that would put constitutional amendments on the ballot that would modernize the state legislature.

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee passed HJR 2 with amendments on a 6-to-3 vote along party lines on Monday.

The legislation allows bills not voted on to roll over to the next session for consideration.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, gave his reasons for voting against the bill.

“I’ve been a victim of legislation dying on the Senate calendar, we all have,” Rehm said. “I guess there’s a good reason why legislation dies and you start over in the next session.”

The legislation also would extend the legislative session to 60 days in even numbered years and would add a five day recess 30 business days into the session. Currently legislative sessions in each even-numbered year are just 30 days.

Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, is the lead sponsor. She is joined by 11 co-sponsors.

Figueroa, who serves as the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee vice-chairwoman, presented the legislation at the Monday committee meeting. She explained the reasoning behind the five day recess.

“At the 30-day point, all the bills have been introduced,” Figueroa said. “So that five days is time to get deep into the legislation coming down the pike… It gives us time to negotiate controversial elements of bills that tend to log jam the end of sessions. It makes the process more efficient, and it makes legislators more informed. And better able to serve their constituents.”

About the bill carryover to the next session, those bills would remain where they were when the session ended.

For instance, tabled bills are still tabled and do-pass bills remain at do-pass status, Figueroa said.

More: Modernizing the Legislature to be discussed during this year’s session

The other legislative modernization effort came from HJR 8 which establishes a “citizen commission on legislative salaries.”

The commission would determine how much, if any,  salary they deem appropriate for legislators to receive.

“(HJR 8) creates a commission– an independent commission– that would establish legislative salaries for the legislature,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, said. “This question goes to the voters on whether or not we create this independent commission.”

New Mexico is the only U.S. state that does not pay its legislators, though they are paid a per diem of $161 per day they are either at the Roundhouse during the session or in interim committees throughout the year.

If enacted, the possible constitutional amendment will be placed on the ballot for New Mexico voters to decide.

The legislation also adjusts and limits legislator salaries and provides for a referendum in the event the New Mexico electorate either reject or annul the commission’s findings.

The house joint resolution passed on a 5-to-3 margin also along party lines.

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Los Ranchos, had to leave the committee prior to voting on HJR 8 but showed her support of the bill prior to leaving.

One of the three Republicans who voted against the legislation was Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, who gave a reason for his dissent.

“It’s hard as a person that has worked all his life and looked for good jobs and tried to advance (to) start the steps to give myself a raise on my own behalf,” Zamora said. “In my views, it’s just hard to give myself a raise.”

The majority of public comment supported both house joint resolutions.