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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Following a number of procedural clashes, the state House early Thursday signed off on both the $7.6 billion budget bill and a massive capital outlay package, sending both measures to the governor.
The approvals came after contentious debate and just hours before Thursday’s noon adjournment.
Both the House and Senate spent much of the day debating bills.
“It’s getting down to the last few hours, and this meeting is classified as organized chaos,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said at the start of a late committee hearing.
A $7.6 billion budget bill and a few related budget-related measures were at the center of the Roundhouse frenzy, as the Senate voted 35-7 Wednesday afternoon to approve a revised plan that would significantly increase state spending for the second straight year.
The vote sent the budget bill back to the House, which voted to accept the Senate’s revisions and advance it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for final approval.
While voting to approve the budget bill, some lawmakers expressed unease with state spending growth over the past two years, along with the state’s reliance on oil-generated tax revenue.
“This would be a painful place to be in today if we didn’t have oil and gas,” Smith said during Wednesday’s debate.
Meanwhile, fates of many hot-button issues had already been decided before the final sprint to the session’s finish line.
That includes bills shoring up one of New Mexico’s large public retirement systems and allowing firearms to be temporarily seized from individuals deemed to pose a threat, both of which have been sent to Lujan Grisham’s desk for final approval.
On the other side of the ledger, a proposal calling for legalization of recreational marijuana stalled last week in a Senate committee.
And bipartisan bills dealing with domestic terrorism and human trafficking also appeared likely to languish without being debated in the same panel, the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As adjournment neared, some Republicans objected to certain bills being fast-tracked, including a Democratic-backed measure making big changes to New Mexico’s 2003 Public Employees Bargaining Act.
“I think the people of New Mexico are being treated like dummies,” Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said during a Tuesday evening floor debate, referring to the “dummy bill” process in which placeholder bills can be used to bring legislation forward after the bill-filing deadline.
But majority Democrats defended the process, saying legislation sometimes needs to be expedited during the session’s frantic final hours.
In addition to the budget, another bill that moved quickly to win approval was a $528 million package of public works projects that would authorize funding to help plan for a professional soccer complex in Albuquerque and for work at Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences.
That capital outlay bill, House Bill 349, cleared the Senate 40-0 late Wednesday after passing the House 63-0 on Tuesday.
In the House, tension escalated late Wednesday as Republicans and Democrats clashed over the flow of legislation and sparred over procedural motions.
At one point, House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, and Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, the chamber’s parliamentarian, were arguing so intensely on the House floor that a third lawmaker walked up to get in between them.
The dust-up over rules came after Republican lawmakers spent hours questioning and debating bills as they arrived on the House floor for final votes. Even bills that passed with broad support, including a proposal to update the state’s probation and parole laws, sometimes consumed two to three hours of floor time.
House rules generally cap debate at three hours per bill, and GOP lawmakers have pushed a variety of debates to the time limit.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters this week that the “stall tactics” could keep the House from taking up important bills supported by a majority of the chamber, where Democrats hold a 46-24 edge.
“Their delay games at this point are starting to have very real consequences,” Egolf said.
House Republicans, in turn, said they are simply seizing every opportunity to represent their constituents. They accused Democrats of moving too quickly and ignoring the concerns of rural residents far from Santa Fe.
“We can’t afford to spend any more money,” House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said late Tuesday. “The folks back home don’t want us to take any more of their rights.”