ByRobert Nott & Jens Gould, Santa Fe New Mexican |
A House committee charged with creating rules for running the special session got an earful Wednesday when some telephone callers into the meeting criticized social protests and uttered racial epithets. The scene, legislators on both sides of the aisle said, pointed to the challenge of running a nontraditional session of the Legislature. Members of both political parties expressed outrage at the calls, which effectively ended any effort to take public comment by phone during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee at the Roundhouse. “What we just heard is pretty disgusting,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Jim Townsend, the minority leader in the House, agreed.
“I am the strongest proponent of public involvement that there is, but when I hear comments like that … that’s uncalled for,” said Townsend, R-Artesia.
A Republican lawmaker who often challenges legislation and decisions by Democrats said he was somewhat happy when an amended version of his resolution calling for more transparency in how lawmakers’ votes are recorded won bipartisan support Thursday.
House Resolution 1, introduced by Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, would require the New Mexico House of Representatives to publish a record of legislators who make or vote on a motion to table a bill.
In most cases, a motion to table a bill means it quietly dies in committee while a legislative session plays out, without ever getting further consideration. While those tabling votes are recorded in committee hearings, they do not go into the official House of Representatives record and cannot be found on the legislative website.
“The people of New Mexico expect ethical transparency,” Townsend told the committee members. “This is just one more step … in making our processes much more transparent to the public.” Though all but one member of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee voted to endorse HR 1, the action came with a price: An amendment would exclude two committees from having to participate in the process.
The issue of driver’s licenses and who in New Mexico should be able to have them is a long-running topic in the New Mexico Legislature. Indications say, an agreement should happen this year thanks to pressure from the federal government. However, it is only one such issue with a long and winding road towards passage. Many lawmakers in the Roundhouse agree that it is common for bills to see years of debates, years of committee assignments and years of failure before they make it to the fourth floor and the Governor can sign them into law. A number of current laws have spent years being fine-tuned and changed in order to gain more traction.
With the pomp and circumstance of the first day of the session in the past, the legislature got down to work. And the first order of business of the new House majority was an effort to make drastic changes to the committees in the House. In a House Rules and Order of Business Committee hearing that began on time at 9:00 — a pledge by new Speaker of the House Don Tripp who said they would start committee hearings on time — House Republicans voted to approve the changes that included replacing the House Voters and Elections and House Labor and Human Resources Committees as well as changes to most of the chamber’s other committees. HR 1 passed on a 10-8 party line vote. The resolution including the rules changes is expected on the House floor later this week.