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House works to midnight, passes election bill

SANTA FE — Frustration boiled over near midnight Wednesday as House Republicans employed a procedural maneuver — a call of the house — to briefly stop debate and later pushed to recess for the night before action on a voter-registration bill.

Neither move, however, ended up preventing action on the measure — House Bill 86, which passed 44-22 along party lines.

The legislation would allow people to register to vote on Election Day at polling places. It now heads to the Senate.

The debate took on unusually personal terms, however, as House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, said he had no confidence in House Speaker Brian Egolf’s ability to lead the chamber.

It was part of an ongoing back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans this session, as Democratic House members have accused Republicans of employing stall tactics and the GOP caucus has accused Democrats of rushing through legislation.

“When your actions are to the point that you’re not representing the decorum of the body, and you’re trying to rule the House in this manner,” Townsend said, “we have no confidence in your ability to lead this body.”

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, shot back that the House was simply following the seven-bill agenda that had been announced in the morning, even if it meant working late because the debate took longer than expected.

“We’re here to do the work of the people,” she said.

Eventually, House Democrats late Tuesday used their own procedural move to end debate — securing the necessary two-thirds vote — after about two hours of discussion on House Bill 86. That’s about an hour less than the usual limit on debate.

Final action on the bill came about 11:55 p.m., and the House wrapped up its final work at midnight.

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