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.
For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse.
There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote.
There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.
New Mexicans voted in a landslide for an ethics commission to police those in state government. But a Senate committee can’t seem to agree on how it should work. The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked Monday in a round of votes on two different bills that would set up the commission. The logjam comes amid questions about how much the public should know about the panel’s work and how much authority it should have to subpoena documents or witnesses. This disagreement is not a surprise given that lawmakers have been left to decide how to police themselves.
Several Democrats joined with Republicans on a state Senate committee Monday to block a proposed constitutional amendment on early childhood education funding, snubbing a priority for members of their party in the New Mexico House and posing a challenge to the agenda of newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Senate Rules Committee tabled a resolution that would have asked voters to decide whether the state should take an additional 1 percent of the nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund each year to expand services to the youngest New Mexicans. Backed by a coalition that includes liberal advocacy groups and the Catholic Church, the measure has foundered for years in the face of opposition from budget hawks among Senate Democrats who contend the proposal would undercut the growth of an endowment that is key to the state’s school system. But Lujan Grisham urged lawmakers in her State of the State Address this year to consider taking a “responsible pinch” — a “poquito” — of the fund to pay for more early childhood education programs.
Within hours of the Rules Committee’s vote on Monday, the Democratic governor offered up an alternative to the tabled bill, proposing to take half as much money and designate it specifically for pre-Kindergarten, with a separate provision she argued should assuage the concerns of fiscal conservatives concerned about depleting the fund. If Lujan Grisham can win support for that idea, she will have pulled off a victory that has eluded Democratic leaders in the House.
Don’t worry, political parties. New Mexico is not going to cut you off. Not yet, anyway. The Senate Rules Committee reined in legislation on Wednesday that would have required political parties pay for their own primary elections if independent voters are not allowed to participate. Backers saw Senate Bill 418 as a sort of compromise in New Mexico’s ongoing debate over whether to open up its closed party nominating elections.
One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s favored legislative initiatives finally advanced Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 8-0 for a bill to create a centralized department for early childhood education. Senate Bill 22 would consolidate programs that are spread among several agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, helped his cause by cutting in half his initial request of $2.5 million to get the department running by July 1, 2020. Padilla now is seeking $1.25 million for the department to make the proposal more palatable. He said the public would benefit from the new agency.
The state Senate voted Friday to confirm Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s five nominees to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, an unusually fast decision that came just six days after she announced her choices. The Senate Rules Committee, which is responsible for background checks on gubernatorial nominees for high-level jobs, considered the candidacies of all five during a three-hour hearing. Then the full 42-member Senate confirmed all of them without dissent. The new regents are:
o Kimberly Sanchez Rael, whose background is in business. She will serve a six-year term.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill Thursday to pay for this year’s 30-day legislative session but vetoed funding for one particular Senate committee. House Bill 1 provides $4.7 million for the session and another $16.1 million for a year-round staff of lawyers, economists, analysts and other aides. But Martinez nixed $19,100 for the Senate Rules Committee, which is responsible for vetting the governor’s picks for Cabinet posts, university regents and a long list of other appointments in New Mexico government. Martinez accuses the committee of holding up confirmation hearings for dozens of her nominees. The money she vetoed had been earmarked for the committee to meet in between regular sessions of the Legislature, though it held only one such meeting last year.
It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.