The final day of the session, hour by hour

The last 24 hours of the legislative session can be lots of things: Rushed, confusing, controversial, maddening—or all of these at once. I’ve seen a lot of these final days over my last 15 years covering the legislative session full-time. This year, I decided to check in with what’s happening throughout the final 24 hours […]

The final day of the session, hour by hour

The last 24 hours of the legislative session can be lots of things: Rushed, confusing, controversial, maddening—or all of these at once.

I’ve seen a lot of these final days over my last 15 years covering the legislative session full-time. This year, I decided to check in with what’s happening throughout the final 24 hours of the session and keep a running diary.

Feb 14, noon., 24 hours until sine die

With 24 hours left in the session, I remember former political reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican Steve Terrell used to always post “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, so I usually listen to that song when the clock hits noon the day before sine die.

As the music blasted in my headphones, the House was getting ready to start hearing legislation. As it is Ash Wednesday, many Representatives throughout the chamber sported ashes on their foreheads. 

As of noon, the House was still in “Announcements & Miscellaneous Business,” which often includes legislators introducing their guests. It also allows Representatives to do silly things like talk about “Marty the Moose” Day while other things are set up for a long work day.

The Senate, meanwhile, was waiting on some members to return from a committee hearing before returning to the floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee was in the midst of discussing HB 8, a bill to amend the Governmental Conduct Act to prohibit political activity from public officials and employees while on duty. It echoes the federal Hatch Act in many ways.

1 p.m., 23 hours until sine die

With 23 hours left in the session, the House was about 45 minutes into debate on the Paid Family Medical Leave Act and Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, was in the process of introducing an amendment to the bill.

The Senate spent some time honoring members who will not be seeking reelection, starting with Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who has served in the Senate since 2013. 

Earlier in the session, the Senate spoke about Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who is also not returning, and honored former Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, who left ahead of this session.

2 p.m., 22 hours until sine die

In the House, debate on the Paid Family Medical Leave Act continued. A number to remember when it comes to debate in the House? 

Three. 

After three hours, a majority of the chamber can vote to end debate and move the previous question (essentially, start the vote). 

Just about every slightly controversial bill ends up with the full three hours of debate on the House floor these days, as the Republican minority tries to use the House rules to slow things down as much as possible (Democrats did the same thing, it should be said, in that two-year period nearly a decade ago when Republicans held a majority in the chamber).

Debate on this bill started around 12:15 p.m., so I’ll spoil the 3 p.m. update: Debate will still be going on. As of 2 p.m., the debate continued on Dixon’s amendment.

The Senate side has no such three hour rule on debate, but debates rarely last that long, reflecting how the two parties tend to work together more in the Senate than the House. The lack of a rule to cut off debate, however, can lead to filibusters at the end of a session

As of 2 p.m., the Senate continued to honor those who were leaving the chamber, moving on from Moores to Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, who is not running for reelection after serving since 2005.

3 p.m., 21 hours until sine die

Remember when I wrote that at 3 p.m. that the House would still be debating the Paid Family Medical Leave Act? Well, they’re still discussing it.

They spent nearly the entire hour since we last checked in debating the amendment put forward by Dixon, just finishing up a few minutes before 3 p.m. and getting back to debate on the actual bill. The debate should end in a few minutes.

The Senate was working a little bit faster. 

The Senate finished the appreciation of Neville and did some housekeeping (the colloquial term for procedural matters like reading messages from the other chamber, reading committee reports and other necessities). 

The Senate then moved on to third reading of legislation (also known as final passage) and passed three House bills, HB 232, HB 91 and HB 5, to send them to the governor’s desk. Our environment reporter Hannah Grover wrote about HB 91, a bill to create a geothermal projects fund.

As the clock struck 3 p.m., the Senate started debate on HB 211, a bill to add wastewater conveyance and treatment as qualifying projects through the Water Trust Board. 

4 p.m., 20 hours until sine die

After three hours of debate, the House ended up voting to table the Paid Family Medical Leave Act at about 3:20 p.m.

Speaker of the House Javier Martinez said the House would recess and return around 5:30 p.m., which usually means closer to 6:00 or 6:30 in Legislative Time. 

During the time away from the floor, the House Taxation and Revenue Committee met and quickly passed SB 246 (Capital Outlay Reauthorizations). As of 4 p.m., the committee was discussing SB 275 (Capital Outlay Projects).

Capital outlay bills typically have a fast track in the final hours of the session. 

Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, called the capital outlay bill “the most complicated bill of the session” every year. The Republican tax wonk chaired the committee for an absent Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo.

The Senate, meanwhile, deployed the parachute and stopped moving as quickly. The entire hour was spent debating HB 211.

The debate focused on an amendment put forward by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes’s amendment sought to remove the portion of the bill that would have allowed projects to move without the approval of the Legislature. Supporters of the amendment said it would keep oversight within the Legislature; opponents said it would delay the authorization of wastewater projects.

The amendment passed 30-9 just before 4 p.m. Will they still be debating the bill at 5 p.m.?

5 p.m., 19 hours until sine die

The capital outlay bill passed a few minutes after 4 p.m. and the House was dormant as of 5 p.m. House members did whatever House members do when they’re not on the floor or on committee. Get an early dinner? Have a nap? Head on over to Rio Chama?

The Senate, meanwhile, finished up the nearly 80 minute debate on HB 211 by passing the bill. Because the Senate amended the bill, it now needs to head back to the House for concurrence. You can read the full report here.

The Senate then quickly passed HB 7, which would adjust distribution from the health care affordability fund, and HB 195, which made changes to the Opportunity Enterprise Act related to housing.

Then comes a phrase that always confuses people who haven’t watched the legislature for years.

“It now being 11:59 am, I move that we adjourn until 12:01 p.m.”

When the Senate Majority Leader says those words, it doesn’t mean that they’re taking a break. It means that they’re “rolling the clock,” a procedural move to allow bills that passed committee earlier in the day to be heard on the floor.

That’s what Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said around 4:30 p.m.—and likely will a couple of more times before noon Thursday—so the Senate could debate HJR 11, related to the federal government withdrawing exclusive federal legislative jurisdiction on a parcel of land on Kirtland Air Force Base, and HB 182, which requires disclosure of the use of AI-generated assets in campaign advertisements. HJR 11 passed with no debate, while HB 182 debate continued past 5 p.m.

6 p.m., 18 hours until sine die

As the clock hits 6 pm, there are just 18 hours left in the legislative session. I’m also starting to regret committing to writing a running diary of what happens throughout the final day of the legislative session. 

Anyway, the Senate passed HB 182 and sent it to the governor’s desk, with the debate ending around 5:45 p.m. See Nicole Maxwell’s story here.

The Senate then finished up some housekeeping and took a dinner break (Wirth told members that there was Chinese food available). Wirth said that the Senate would return at 6:30 p.m.

Minutes after the Senate left the floor, the House came back to start their evening session.

As of 6 p.m., the House finished their housekeeping.

Martinez announced that the House would move between the main third reading list of bills that began the day on the calendar, supplemental calendars made up of bills that passed the committee earlier on Wednesday and a calendar of bills that required concurrence from the Senate. 

First up as of 6 p.m.? SJR 16, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow counties to establish their salaries without the need to go to the Legislature for approval.

7 p.m. 17 hours until sine die

Do you remember in high school when you would wait until the night before the deadline to do all your homework? You’d just skim “The Great Gatsby” then put together the book report before going to bed. 

Well, that’s the mode the Legislature is in right now. The House spent the last hour flying through legislation and barely debating.

SJR 16 cleared the House quickly (voters will need to approve it this November) after 6 p.m. This was quickly followed by SB 151, SB 165, SB 161, which passed without any debate.

SB 96 wasn’t so quick. The bill increased the penalty for attempted murder to 9 years in prison, an increase from the current 3 years and would increase the sentence of a second degree felony resulting in the death of a human being from 15 years to 18 years.

The bill passed the House 49-18 about ten minutes before 7 p.m.

The chamber then moved on to SB 271, regarding holding someone accused of a felony while in jail while they are awaiting trial for another felony. Both judges would be required to look at the conditions for release, passing it on a 57-10 vote, sending it to the governor.

The House then passed SB 230 with no debate.

The Senate returned at around 6:40 p.m. and once again began honoring senators who are leaving the Legislature, starting with Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, who has served since 2012.

8 p.m., 16 hours until sine die

This last hour reminded me why people who aren’t used to watching how the Legislature works (last-minute book report style) are always shocked when there’s a week left in the session and few bills have passed. It does look bad when the governor signs the first substantive bill with just six days left in the session.

But the bills are working their way through the committee process, and the chambers let bills stack up so they can vote on them all in a flood of activity, as we’ve seen so far today.

The hour leading up to 8 p.m. was characterized by the House passing legislation with little or no debate.

Capital outlay reauthorizations, SB 246, passed the House unanimously after no debate. These are capital outlay projects from previous capital outlay bills that still are not yet complete.

Meanwhile, the new capital outlay bill, SB 275, had a debate from just one member, with Dixon seeking to clarify that no money was in place for the governor’s strategic water reserves (a Senate committee heard the bill Wednesday morning, but it appeared to be too late for the governor’s priority to clear the Legislature before noon tomorrow).

Other bills like SB 14, SB 175, SB 169, SB 108, SB 217, SB 106, SB 241, SB 148, SB 76 and SB 146 passed with no debate, even as some voted against them.

Sandwiched in between were some votes to concur with Senate amendments; the House voted to concur with Senate amendments on HB 7 and HB 211 by voice vote with no debate.

A bill to require affirmative consent training in post-secondary institutions, HB 151, was amended in the Senate and the effort to concur with the amendment received about 20 minutes of debate as Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, questioned the bill’s sponsor Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, about the changes.

The House ultimately voted to concur 38-22, a rare concurrence with a roll call vote, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Between concurrence and passing Senate bills, the House sent 15 bills to the governor in an hour.

And across the Roundhouse in the Senate? Honoring outgoing senators continued with some housekeeping in between.

The Senate finished up with speaking about Griggs and moved on to Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, who won’t seek reelection after one term.

9 p.m., 15 hours until sine die

People who speak Latin surely are confused about how the members of the New Mexico legislature says sine die. I’m not sure why, but the way legislators pronounce it rhymes with “tiny fry.” 

Anyway, the Legislature’s glossary defines the term as “A Latin term literally meaning ‘without day’. It normally refers to the final adjournment of a particular session. The term means that the legislature adjourns without appointing a day on which to assemble again.”

The House broke its streak of not debating bills to debate HB 251, which would create a Smokey Bear license plate. The “debate” lasted less than five minutes and was more joking than serious, though Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, a staunch opponent of the current process used to create new speciality license plates, said he would vote for the bill. He did, however, say the process used to approve new plates should be addressed in next year’s legislative session. The bill would need to pass the Senate before noon tomorrow.

The House still continued its torrid pace, and sent SB 216, SB 142, SB 88, SB 128, SB 129 and SB 127 to the governor’s desk. They also sent SJR 1 to the voters for a proposed constitutional amendment related to the judicial nominating commission.

“Members, we have just went through the entire list of bills,” Speaker of the House Javier Martinez said, allowing the legislators to applaud.

They then rolled the clock (see the 5 p.m. entry) and finished for the night. Martinez announced the House would recess until 8:30 a.m.

The Senate, reveling in completing most of its work before today, finished honoring McKenna and moved on to honor Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, who also served one term in the Senate but will not seek reelection.

The Senate then did their own speed rounds, starting with concurring with amendments on SB 165, then moved on to third reading of legislation.

The Senate passed HB 253, HB 236, HB 165, HB 29 and HB 33 with little or no debate and sent them to the governor’s desk, well on their way to clearing their calendars of anything they wanted to do before the end of the session at noon.

9:30 p.m., 14.5 hours until sine die

What happens when you prepare to write a running diary of what you think may be a long day with long debates on bills—only they finish before the late news even airs? 

When instead of quotes from debates, you get a list of bills that pass with no debate? 

When your idea of sprinkling in explanations of arcane rules into the proceedings falls flat as no one even tries a tricky procedural move? Well, I’ve been doing this for over nine hours, and I’ll argue that I’m pot-committed, to use a gambling metaphor, rather than admit the sunk cost fallacy is more accurate at this point.

I guess I get to go to sleep early and I’ll be up early tomorrow to see what legislators will do at 8:30 a.m.

Even debating a piece of legislation on psilocybin didn’t really slow down things too much.

The Senate debated SM 12, which would ask the state Department of Health to look at establishing a program to study the medical use of psilocybin (the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms). As a memorial, it would have no force of law behind it.

Craig Brandt R-Rio Rancho, spoke about the studies of using psilocybin to treat traumatic brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, particularly among veterans.

The debate was short and only one or two magic mushroom jokes.

“I think I have post-traumatic session disorder, where do I get my shrooms?” outgoing senator Moores asked.

The Senate passed HB 181, HB 302 and HB 298 and sent them to the governor without debate. The Senate also, without debate, sent SB 161 and SB 129 to the governor by concurring with House amendments made to those bills.

The House finished their work at 8:40 p.m., the Senate finished their work at 9:27 p.m. and Wirth announced the Senate would recess until 9 am.

“We’re actually out of here at 9:30, which is pretty close to record for me in legislative sessions,” Wirth said. Wirth started in the House in 2004.

“Senators, we’re almost there,” Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said, admonishing senators who were making noise while other senators made announcements. But he also could have been talking about the session itself.

Back at 8:30 a.m.

9 a.m., 3 hours until sine die

In the final days of a legislative session, bills that leadership finds important can move very quickly through the legislative session. Massive pieces of tax legislation have passed with very little discussion, bypassing the committee process entirely or only getting a cursory look.

This year, there’s no need for that. 

Only one bill, the slightest of things, received a meeting the morning of the last day of the legislative session. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee quickly heard a bill that Rep. Mark Duncan, R-Kirtland, joked was a piece of “landmark legislation.” 

The bill? HB 251, which would enable the state Motor Vehicle Division to apply for a license from the U.S. Forest Service for the use of the image of Smokey Bear for a specialty license plate. 

Note: You probably grew up saying “Smokey the Bear.” If you add “the” to Smokey Bear’s name in the New Mexico legislature, prepare for a lecture on how to say the New Mexico icon’s name.

As of 9 a.m., that was the only action, as we waited for the House and Senate to sit down and finish their business.

Feb. 15, 10 a.m., 2 hours until sine die

The Senate came to order at 9:15 a.m. and went into their usual business at the start of the day. An invocation from the Senate Chaplain, the pledge of allegiance and the salute to the flag of New Mexico (still something I’ve never seen anywhere but at the New Mexico Roundhouse during the legislative session).

The Senate wasn’t hearing any massive tax bills on Thursday and started the day with a certificate recognizing the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and then one recognizing the service of Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, the senator who was leaving after serving since 2013.

As of 10 a.m., the Senate continued to speak about Pirtle.

By my count, the Senate honored eight senators this year, explicitly saying in most cases that they would not seek reelection. That means, even before any surprise announcements on filing day next month, that nearly 20 percent of the 42-member Senate will not be seeking reelection. After primary elections and general elections with new district lines, we will see a very different senate in 2025.

The House, meanwhile, still has not begun their work.

11 a.m., 1 hour until sine die

Coming into this final day of the legislative session, 66 bills passed both the House and Senate and headed to the governor’s desk, with another three joint resolutions (two of which need to go to voters to approve amendments to the state constitution). 

How does this compare to past 30-day sessions over the last decade? In 2022, both chambers passed 64 bills. In 2020, both chambers passed 88 bills. In 2020, both chambers passed 111 bills. In 2018, both chambers passed 111 bills. In 2016, both chambers passed 100 bills. In 2014, both chambers passed 91 bills.

There aren’t many bills left to pass, either. Coming into Thursday, the Senate only had nine House bills left, including the all-important Smokey Bear license plate bill, and the House had just three Senate bills left. 

The Senate moved quickly on the handful of House bills left, passing HB 270, HB 207 and HB 98 with some short debate on each bill and was in the midst of debate on HB 303.

The House came to order at 10:42 a.m. That’s right, just one hour and 18 minutes until sine die. Again, invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, salute to the flag of New Mexico.

As we hit 11 a.m., the chairs of House committees were in the midst of taking terms thanking the members of their committees and legislative staff for their hard work during the session. 

12 p.m., sine die

The two chambers went a little over their time while honoring legislators who announced they would retire.

The House passed 14 memorials in one vote as part of a consent calendar.

Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, spoke about Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, leaving the chamber. Rubio said that Figueroa was moving to the “other chamber that we don’t name.” Figueroa launched her Senate campaign last December, and is running in SD 18. Rubio also mentioned that Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, would be heading to the other chamber. Ezzell is running to replace Pirtle in SD 32. Former Minority Leader Jim Townsend is also not seeking reelection, and will instead run for a Senate seat in SD 34.

The House spoke about Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, and Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, and House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who are all retiring.

The Senate, meanwhile, has an unofficial tradition. That is Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, debating a bill and running out the clock. In this case, it was HB 303. Sharer debated for most of the hour until the bill passed with little opposition. 

The Senate then sprinted to finish its business, concurring with changes made to the House on SB 239, sending it to the governor’s desk, and amending and passing SM 5.

The Senate finished up their official business with the Smokey Bear license plate bill, HB 251, which now goes to the governor’s desk as well.

After the Smokey Bear license bill, in a last-minute surprise, the Senate honored Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, who will retire at the end of his term, adding another name to the list of departing Senators.

The Lt. Gov. appointed Senators Greg Nibert, Katy Duhigg and Shannon Pinto to tell the House that they adjourned sine die. He appointed Bill Soules, Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez and Stephen McCutcheon to inform the governor they adjourned sine die. These are part of the process.

With a motion by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, the Senate adjourned sine die a minute past noon.

The House was listening to Ezzell speak as the clock hit noon. 

Shortly after noon, Martinez appointed Figueroa, Scott, Ezzell to inform the Senate the House concluded its business and  appointed Parajon, Hembree and Thomson to inform the governor’s office.

“The House has adjourned sine die,” Martinez said (pronouncing it correctly) at 12:08 p.m.

The Senate adjourned, but typically has more speeches to listen to past noon.

Wirth spoke and thanked legislators, staff, state police and others for their work during the session. Baca, in his closing remarks for the session, said he wished that they would move forward “on a more bipartisan manner” in future sessions. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales also gave closing remarks.

After the end of each legislative session, the Senate hands out Milagro Awards to senators following the end of each session, this time honoring Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española.

As Wirth played “Low Rider” by War on the speakers through his phone, the final webcast of the 2024 state legislature came to an end, 19 minutes past noon.

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