At the end of every legislative session, there are dozens of bills that die on the House or Senate floor. When asked what happened, legislative leaders invariably shrug their shoulders and say, “We just ran out of time …” Which is true. But in the days and weeks that lead to the last moments of a session, lawmakers eat up untold hours — joking around, talking sports, engaging in ceremonial activities and spending time on legislation that doesn’t have the force of law. Call these activities “time bandits.”
Longtime state representative and budget guru Luciano “Lucky” Varela died at the age of 82 this weekend. Varela’s son Jeff announced Sunday morning, first reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, that the longtime state government employee and legislator had passed away. Varela had been in hospice care after a series of health problems including a heart attack earlier this year. Jeff Valera said in a statement: Our father has passed on to another life and leaves us with many memories of his love for life and for public service. We will always cherish the times with him on the family compound in Pecos, and being with him at the State Capitol during many legislative sessions.
State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, remained in a Denver hospital Tuesday for treatment of a heart condition. Trujillo, 77, was flown to Denver last week. He couldn’t be reached for comment, but House Speaker Brian Egolf said Tuesday that Trujillo is out of the intensive care unit and is “up walking and talking.” “My understanding is that he is doing well and should be out of the hospital this week,” said Egolf, D-Santa Fe. I am not sure when he will be back in Santa Fe, but we are hoping in the next 10 days or so.”
New Mexico’s longest-serving legislator, Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, as well as former Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat who retired in 2016 after 30 years in the House, have been hospitalized, House Speaker Brian Egolf told lawmakers Wednesday. Salazar, 87, who just began his 23rd term in the House, was driven to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon, said Egolf’s chief of staff, Reena Szczepanski. “He’s being monitored. That’s all I know,” she said.
Two House committees passed four Senate bills, three with no changes, but the one bill that must pass this year to balance the books on the budget for the year that ended three months ago passed with a change. If the bill passes in the amended form, the Senate would need to resolve the differences created by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee before it heads to the governor. In a bill that moves over $200 million from various funds, largely the tobacco settlement permanent fund, the change moved $1 million more from a legislative account. “I don’t want to say it’s a political movida, but it sounds to me like it’s a political movida,” Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said before the committee approved the changes. “If we don’t make an effort to increase our reserves, our bond rating is in danger of being down-rated,” committee chair Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said.
Filing day took place for candidates for many positions throughout the state—but the main focus is on state representatives and state senators. Two contested primaries with former legislators trying to return to the Roundhouse will likely receive a big amount of attention in the next two months. Related Story: Who’s running for House, Senate seats? Former State Rep. Sandra Jeff of Shiprock is back running for office, this time in the state Senate. Jeff will be taking on incumbent Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary Senate District 22.
Now that the legislative session is over and the dust is—mostly—settled, legislators now are turn their focus to the upcoming elections. While some candidates have announced their intention to take over the veterans that called it quits this year, the official count won’t be until after the deadline to file on March 8. Here’s who we know for sure is leaving this year, and a couple no one is sure about. House of Representatives District 24 – Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque confirmed last year on social media that he would not run for reelection. He later endorsed Dr. Christina Hall, an Albuquerque chiropractor, as his replacement.
Revenue projections continue to fall thanks to oil prices remaining lower than previous projections, meaning that there could be some tough decisions in the upcoming legislative session. The new projections show that legislators will have $232 million in new funds for the upcoming legislative session, which is down by $61 million from the previous projections. The projections are for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and came at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting on Monday. Even with the reduced amount, Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was skeptical of the projection. “We hope the revenues materialize, but it’s going to be extremely painful if they don’t,” Smith said.
The Secretary of State’s office said this week it would look closer at a former lawmaker’s decision to contribute money from his campaign fund to a family member running for office last year. Former Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, donated $2,400 in December 2013 to his son Randy’s unsuccessful House primary race and another $2,600 donation on June 6, 2014, after the primary, campaign finance documents show. The contribution limits in 2014 were $2,400 for the primary and $2,400 for the general election. Secretary of State spokesman Ken Ortiz said the office would review the situation involving Saavedra, which appears to exceed state limits. “In the case with Rep. Saavedra, we will need to review the donation of $2,600 to determine if it exceeds the allowable limits,” Ortiz wrote in an email.