SANTA FE — Chalk up another first for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez: No other governor in the past 50 years has asked lawmakers to grapple with substantive bills on other subjects while they’re at the Capitol for redistricting.
Even as Martinez on Monday added one more item to the list — a ban on the “social promotion” of third-graders who don’t read proficiently — Democratic leaders of both houses complained about a clogged calendar for the special session that starts Sept. 6.
And, in what could be a harbinger of the relationship this session between the Democrat-dominated Senate and the GOP governor, Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, bailed out of Martinez’s push for the “social promotion” bill.
Garcia was an invited speaker at Martinez’s news conference Monday at a Santa Fe school to promote the legislation. But when it was the senator’s turn, she told the crowd instead it was “premature” for lawmakers to deal with the bill in next week’s special session.
Garcia said more time should be spent collaborating with teachers and parents, the issue could distract lawmakers from redistricting, and she worried about the cost of extending a $50,000-a-day legislative session.
“I want to focus on redistricting,” said Garcia, apologizing to Martinez for changing her mind at the last minute after what she said were calls from constituents.
Garcia said with Martinez-sought issues such as firecracker restrictions and repealing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants on the agenda, “We may end up being here the whole year.”
Legislative leaders said Monday that, once Martinez has opened the door to issues other than redistricting, the special session agenda could snowball. If Martinez issues a proclamation for the session outlining a variety of subjects for them to tackle, lawmakers are free to introduce their own bills on those subjects.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told a meeting of legislative leaders that as a result, “nine bills could end up being 90 bills or 900 bills.”
Governors who called redistricting special sessions in 2001, in 1991 and 1992, and in 1981 and 1982, put only redistricting and redistricting-related bills on the agendas.
In 1991, in the waning hours of the redistricting session, a simultaneous special session was held for an hour and a half to do only a special appropriation to the Board of Finance for emergency projects. The $2.2 million bill included $450,000 for the operation and maintenance of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
There were no special sessions for redistricting in the 1970s, according to the Legislative Council Service. A 1963 House-only redistricting special session had no other items on the governor’s proclamation.
According to Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga, research hasn’t turned up any instance of redistricting special sessions including unrelated items, and nobody can recall one that did.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambé, said at the Legislative Council meeting that this redistricting session will be different from past years.
Previously, there has been a “skeleton crew” of staffers and only two or three committees that require staffing, he said. With such a full slate, the upcoming session could require as many as nine committees, he said.
And he disputed Martinez’s assertion that lawmakers would have plenty of time on their hands during the session. He said legislators would be busy monitoring every redistricting plan presented.
Martinez said at her news conference that the agenda she proposes is “very doable” in a session expected to last at least a couple of weeks.
The Legislature has shown it can deal with dozens of items and an entire state budget in just a few days, she said.
The 2001 special session on redistricting lasted 17 days.
“I will fight for this bill and all education reform bills every chance I get. Politics will never come first, before these bills,” the governor said.
Martinez also said she has reached out to Democrats and lined up support for several of the economic development-related measures, including a capital outlay bill for statewide projects and adjustments to unemployment insurance fees and an existing high-wage tax credit.
As for her proposal to broaden government’s authority to ban fireworks, “Have we forgotten that we almost had a million acres burned?” she said. The law should be changed while it’s fresh in everyone’s mind, she said.
In addition to the items Martinez puts on the special session agenda, a committee of House members may be meeting to discuss the possible impeachment of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., whose problems include apparent misuse of his state-issued gas credit card.
Lujan said if that panel recommends impeachment, it’s likely the Legislature would call itself into an extraordinary session to deal with it. That would be after the special session, the speaker said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal