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At the Roundhouse: Back to the Grindstone

ORIGINALLY POSTED ONLINE THURSDAY, JAN. 19
At the Roundhouse: Back to the Grindstone

Now on to the drudgery of the legislative session, but also it’s real business: bills.

You know the old saying about how no one is safe while the lawmakers are in town. But they also might be doing something FOR for you. So, what are the vehicles of their skullduggery or beneficence? Bills.

How many this session? By the measure of the previous 30-day session, in 2010, the count will near 600. (See chart below).

And that’s just legislation to add to or revise New Mexico statutes, not all the extra resolutions and memorials.

The scope of New Mexico’s “short” sessions of the Legislature is determined by the Constitution and then shaped by the governor. The longer 60-day sessions, in odd-numbered years, are wide-open – and far more bills are introduced.

But once the governor opens the door to a particular subject in a 30-day session – for instance, taxes – it’s fair game for legislators introduce their own propositions on the same subject. (Go back to Deborah Baker’s summary in the Sunday Journal to see legislation we expect to be introduced this year: http://www.abqjournal.com/2012/01/15/news/2012-legislative-agenda.html).

These bills are called “germane.” If Republican Gov. Susana Martinez calls in her State of the State speech for tax cuts, as she did, or makes other requests in subsequent “messages,” then lawmakers are free to introduce tax increase bills, as some Democrats will.

Predictably, there was some griping from the Democratic sides of the aisles after Martinez’s opening-day speech on Tuesday that her agenda was too big, that it asked lawmakers to do too many things in a short session, when their only required business is passing an annual budget.

But, hey, it’s an election-year, with all 112 seats up for grabs. Would you think that incumbents seeking re-election really want to be limited on what they can propose on their own? So, in that criticism of the governor’s opening speech, you see some of the most shallow legislative posturing.

In the unglamorous but necessary job of reporters to actually read these things, one of the frustrations is how few bills really will pass.

A Legislative Council Service graphic shows 572 bills introduced in the 2010 session and 125 passed. And of those passed, 116 were approved by the governor and 9 were vetoed.

We ink-stained drudges often ask whether all those introductions were necessary. But, in theory, each lawmaker who introduced one or more did so on behalf of the people who elected them.

Opening day was full of drama and ceremony: House Speaker Ben Lujan’s disclosure that he is battling lung cancer and Martinez’s speech to lawmakers. Now, back to the grindstone.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal

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