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Parliamentary warfare fills final hours

House Min. Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, left, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, have a light moment during the last hours of the 2020 Legislative Session, Thursday February 20, 2020. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Procedural clashes and slow-moving debate dominated the final hours of the 2020 session as time ran out on proposals to establish tax incentives for electric vehicles and revise New Mexico’s election laws.

Their death was a rare Republican victory in a session filled with movement on Democratic priorities for firearms, the environment, health care and unions.

Throughout the session, especially in the House, GOP lawmakers confronted their Democratic colleagues, pushing to extend debate and complicate Democratic attempts to pass legislation.

A particularly tense exchange roiled the House overnight Thursday as final approval of the main budget bill – authorizing a substantial increase in state spending – was held up after Republicans accused House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, of cutting off debate too quickly.

The House initially voted to approve the Senate amendments to the budget bill about 12:15 a.m., triggering howls of objection by Republican lawmakers.

Addressing Egolf, House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said, “You know damn well” that more legislators wanted to speak on the bill before the final vote.

“You can’t even keep your word for five minutes,” Montoya said.

Egolf responded that he had outlined the schedule to Montoya earlier. But he said he would reopen debate on the bill and give legislators more time to look through the Senate amendments.

“It’s a fair point,” Egolf said. “I want everybody to feel like they’re getting a fair shot at debate.”

The budget measure, House Bill 2, won approval about 1:15 a.m.

A proposal to accept Senate changes to another House-approved bill, however, didn’t make it through. With just two hours until adjournment, lengthy Republican debate forced the House to abandon the proposal – House Bill 217, establishing tax incentives for electric vehicles – so that the chamber could move on to less controversial legislation.

Senate skirmish

The Senate had its own logjam.

A procedural skirmish broke out after majority Democrats sought to interrupt a filibuster by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, to resume debate on a bill updating New Mexico’s election code.

The proposal, House Bill 229, had been put off after midnight Thursday morning when a GOP senator called for the chamber to be locked down. Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque had already returned home to be with her children, and Democratic leaders opted to postpone a vote on the measure instead of making her return to Santa Fe.

In the end, the election proposal died without a final vote in the Senate.

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the state’s chief election officer, called it “highly disappointing to see partisan disinformation and maneuvering” kill a bill that would have made technical changes and clarifications to state election law.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said Republicans were uneasy about changes to the election bill that were made late in the session and used Senate rules to stymie the legislation.

“The rules are there to help the minority to a certain degree,” he said.

Bills passed near session’s end

But plenty of bills made it through in the final hours.

Lawmakers overnight granted final approval to a $528 million spending package on public works, House Bill 349. It includes about $4.1 million to plan for a new professional soccer complex in Albuquerque and about $4.6 million to preserve more open space near the oxbow wetlands on the city’s West Side.

Spaceport America in Sierra County would get about $10 million for a payload center and information technology building.

Also winning approval in the final 12 hours was a broad anti-crime proposal, House Bill 6, which would allow for stiffer criminal penalties for some gun crimes and expand the funding sources for community policing efforts.

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