The House voted on Thursday to change the rules and bring a new lineup of committees in the chamber.
Democrats were not happy with the sweeping changes, as shown by the over two hours of debate on the legislation. The bill eventually passed on a 37-30, party-line vote.
The move was essentially the first move by the new Republican majority and House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said it was designed to make the chamber more efficient.
He said the changes were designed “to reallocate the committee workload” from some committees that he called “overburdened.”
“The motivation of this bill is not to change names for the sake of changing names but to redistribute the workload,” Gentry said.
One of the committees Gentry mentioned was the House Judiciary Committee. He said it was the busiest committee and that of 340 committee referrals, the committee acted on 236 bills.
The former Judiciary Committee chairman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, disputed that number and said that it didn’t include legislation that was tabled by the committee after debate. Gentry, a member of the Judiciary Committee under Chasey, conceded that it did not.
Still, Chasey said, “I agree that we were overburdened.”
Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, referred to it as “the renaming, the bundling, the restructuring of the standing committee process.”
Gentry defended the changes by saying that it would not change the way that bills move through the committee process. He said bills would still be assigned to committees by the Speaker of the House and still be heard in the same way.
Democrats were, as they were in the House Rules and Order of Business Committee, particularly critical of the removal of the standalone Voters and Elections Committee and moving it to the new House Government, Voters and Indian Affairs Committee as well as the removal of House Labor and Human Resources Committee and changing it to the House Business and Employment Committee.
“Voters and Elections is fundamental,” Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said. “I think all of us are concerned with lack of voter participation.”
“I think the de-emphasis on the issues of our labor force is unfortunate,” Minority Leader Brian Egolf said.
“Words matter and the names of the committees matter,” Egolf said. “Obviously they matter because the other party is seeking to change them.”
When asked by Garcia if Governor Susana Martinez had any role in the committee changes, Gentry said, “None.”
“Absolutely none,” Gentry said. “I don’t even know that they’ve seen this proposal yet.”
“I take that in all sincerity,” Garcia said.
Shortly after the passage of the new House Rules, Speaker Don Tripp named the committee membership of most of the new committees. The committee chairs had already been released by the House Republicans.