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Much work remains as 30-day session nears end

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, listens during a committee hearing this week. Many legislators are frustrated by the slow pace of the 30-day session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, listens during a committee hearing this week. Many legislators are frustrated by the slow pace of the 30-day session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – With six days remaining in the New Mexico Legislature’s 30-day session, much remains up in the Roundhouse air.

The fates of many high-profile bills were unclear Friday, a list that includes a $6.2 billion budget that stalled last week in the House over disagreement on how public school funding should be administered.

Senate Democratic Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen said the budget predicament has affected other bills, because some of them are dependent on budget dollars being approved.

“The reason I think most of the bills are being held up is because we’re waiting on the budget,” Sanchez told the Journal.

The budget stalemate has led to finger pointing, with Republicans blaming Democrats for being unwilling to compromise and Democratic leaders blaming Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for its role in the budget talks.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, expressed frustration Friday that some committees have not been meeting and other bills have been kept in limbo due to the budget impasse.

“I’m disappointed. I think that our one responsibility coming here was to pass a budget,” Youngblood said. “It’s eerily similar to how Washington, D.C., operates.”

Going into today, 66 bills had been approved by the House and 24 bills had cleared the Senate. However, just one bill – a spending measure to pay for the ongoing 30-day session – had cleared both chambers and been sent to Martinez’s desk for final approval.

Although Sanchez called the pace of the session “pretty typical” – the final days of the session frequently feature late nights and quicker action on bills – some high-profile proposals appear to face long odds as the Legislature enters the homestretch.

That includes a pair of the governor’s initiatives – one that would end “social promotion” of third-graders who cannot read proficiently and another that would repeal the 2003 law that allows immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.

A House committee is scheduled to vote today on a watered-down version of the social promotion legislation, but it would still have to clear the full House and the Senate in less than a week to reach the governor.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are grappling with how to shore up the state’s cash-strapped lottery scholarship fund and whether to earmark money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 65-1 Friday to approve a bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, that would bolster the lottery scholarship by severing awards from tuition, but lawmakers said a lack of consensus on the issue in the Senate could mean trouble. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, cast the only “no” vote.

“The fact that we’re not moving as fast as we should be gives me concern we’re not going to do anything on the lottery,” Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, said Friday.

Other issues likely to generate debate during the final days of the 30-day session include the annual package of public works projects, a solvency crunch facing rural hospitals and a proposal to bar legislators from returning to the Capitol as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.