Voting bill dies as 30-day session comes to an end - Albuquerque Journal

Voting bill dies as 30-day session comes to an end

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A grueling push to enact voting legislation backed by Democratic leaders at the Capitol died in the final minutes of a contentious 30-day session Thursday as a Senate Republican launched a filibuster to run out the clock.

The standoff came after lawmakers worked through the night, agreeing in the final hours to send a hefty tax cut package and a broad crime bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

But much of the last-minute drama centered on voting legislation that would have required ballot drop boxes and established a permanent absentee voter list, among other changes to the election code.

The proposal, Senate Bill 144, passed the House on a 39-30 vote just before 10 a.m. after three hours of debate, sending it to the Senate with two hours left in the session.

But Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, effectively killed the measure with a filibuster on the Senate floor.

He talked about San Juan River fly-fishing, baseball rules, Navajo Code Talkers, and the celestial alignment of the sun and moon during a lengthy soliloquy on the Senate floor, which began about 9:35 a.m. and lasted through adjournment.

The speech outraged supporters of the election legislation, who said it deserved a vote by both chambers.

Senators milled around and chatted during Sharer’s filibuster, with some taking photos.

Under Senate rules, debate can be halted after two hours. But Sharer’s filibuster was technically not during debate of a bill.

Instead, it came during announcements to the chamber, allowing him to keep the floor without time limit. And no Senate Democrats attempted to interrupt Sharer.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said afterward that Sharer had made a mockery of the legislative process.

“It’s a joke,” Egolf said. “It’s sad, and he should be ashamed.”

Opponents of the election bill, by contrast, hailed Sharer and other Republicans for their work to block the legislation.

“Although Republicans are currently a near super-minority in both chambers,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said in a written statement, “it seems clear that the mandate of the people has been heard loud and clear in this building. We hear you and we will not cease our fight to bring your values to the Roundhouse.”

This year’s session wasn’t the first to end with a filibuster that killed significant legislation. In 2011, for example, a capital outlay bill died as time expired amid a filibuster.

Bipartisan support

Lawmakers found some common ground in the final 12 hours.

Working past sunrise, the state House signed off on Senate-approved proposals to cut about $546 million in taxes and enact a broad plan to strengthen law enforcement.

Each bill secured some bipartisan support.

The House votes took place in a marathon floor session that started about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and continued for 26½ hours straight though to noon Thursday, with just a brief break around midnight.

The tax cut legislation, House Bill 163, would reduce the state’s gross receipts tax rate, expand tax breaks on Social Security benefits and enact new tax credits for children.

It includes a $250 tax rebate for adults who make less than $75,000 annually. The rebate would be $500 for married couples filing jointly with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000 per year.

The bill is expected to cost the state about $546 million. It won House approval about 3:40 a.m.

Crime package

The Legislature this session faced pressure from Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque city officials to address the high rate of violent crime in New Mexico.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, led an effort in the final hours to roll a series of separate proposals into one piece of legislation.

The crime package, House Bill 68, would enhance some criminal penalties and offer retention bonuses to experienced police officers at certain stages of their career.

It would also require the judiciary to share ankle monitor data for pretrial defendants with law enforcement if needed for an investigation, among other provisions.

Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said the crime proposal incorporated bipartisan ideas to “help ensure swift and certain justice.”

“There are parts of this that have taken years and many sessions to get here,” she said during debate about 6:40 a.m.

The crime bill passed about 6:50 a.m. after about three hours of questioning and debate, driven largely by Republican members who said the proposal deserved thorough vetting.

It was the second all-night floor session of the House in the last week.

Elections bills

The marathon voting debate at the Roundhouse began just after sunrise. It comes amid a broader national debate over election procedures, as some states tighten ballot access and federal legislation collapsed in January.

“Our democracy is only as good as our access to the ballot box,” House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, told his colleagues as he spoke in favor of the proposal, Senate Bill 144.

House Republicans vigorously opposed the contents of the bill and the procedure used to resurrect it. The legislation was a blend of three elections bills – one of which had been blocked by a procedural maneuver in the Senate.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said the new version of the proposal had surfaced only this week.

“A thorough vetting of this bill has not occurred,” he said. “We’ve had a lot to digest in a very short period of time.”

The bill would have restored the voting rights of people convicted of a felony on release from incarceration, rather than after they’ve completed probation or parole.

It also would have allowed voters to sign up once to receive absentee ballots for every general election, rather than having to apply for one each time.

Other provisions would have established a Native American voting rights act; directed counties to offer two secured, monitored drop boxes for absentee ballots; and made it a crime to threaten or intimidate state and county election officials.

It was sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat and former city clerk in charge of elections, and Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat and New Mexico’s chief elections officer, advocated for the bill, contending it “included important provisions to streamline election administration procedures that had buy-in from across the political spectrum.”

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