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Lawmakers Get a Jump on Short Session

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Legislature won’t convene for its 2012 regular session until next week, but action is already picking up at the Roundhouse.

Several legislative committees are getting a head start this week, as time will be tight once the session starts due to a constitutionally imposed limit that sessions can last no more than 30 days in even-numbered years.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held its first meeting Monday, with members receiving an update on the budget recommendations unveiled last week by Gov. Susana Martinez and an interim legislative budget panel.

The House committee is where the budget bill – spelling out state spending for the coming year – originates. Committee members hope to have the budget bill crafted and ready for a floor vote in the House of Representatives by the session’s midpoint, Jan. 30.

“If we don’t start a week early, we won’t have enough time,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, the committee’s deputy chairman.

Three other legislative panels will also start holding public hearings this week at the Capitol: The House Education Committee starts Wednesday, while both the House Transportation and Public Works Committee and the Senate Finance Committee crank up Thursday.

This isn’t the first time legislative committees have begun working before the session’s official start date. Committee hearings during the week preceding a 30-day session have become commonplace in recent years.

Typically, no votes are taken during such pre-session committee meetings.

Per the state Constitution, the 30-day session’s content is limited to budgetary matters, bills placed on the legislative agenda by Martinez and legislation vetoed by the governor during the 2011 regular session.

In all, 84 pieces of proposed legislation, including constitutional amendments, had been pre-filed as of Monday for consideration during the session.

The second session of the 50th New Mexico Legislature officially begins at noon next Tuesday.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal