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Senate leader may alter how bills are scheduled

SANTA FE – The newly elected floor leader for majority Senate Democrats wants to make the Senate’s daily floor sessions – during which bills are debated and voted upon – less of a guessing game.

Peter Wirth

Peter Wirth

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who was elected to the leadership post last month after longtime floor leader Michael Sanchez of Belen was ousted from the Legislature, said in an interview last week that he is considering implementing changes to how bills are scheduled in the 42-member chamber.

One change could involve specifying one day in advance which bills will be debated on the floor, which is currently done – with some exceptions – in the House of Representatives.

He said the change could make the Senate transparent for the public, as well as for lobbyists, media members and senators themselves.

“My sense is putting some organization into the calendar is helpful,” Wirth told the Journal . “I’m willing to look at ways to restructure some of that.”

However, Wirth also said he plans to keep other Senate procedures in place and intends to retain at least some of the staffers hired by Sanchez, whose 24-year tenure in the Senate ended when he lost to Republican Greg Baca of Belen in a race marked by big outside spending.

Under long-standing Senate procedures, the leader of the Senate’s majority party decides which bills are voted on by the full Senate, and in what order. That agenda-setting power, which has occasionally been called into question, is especially important in the final days of a legislative session when a large number of bills are typically awaiting debate and a floor vote.

In recent years, Sanchez routinely would announce at the start of a floor session the list of bills – and their order – he intended to be debated and voted upon on the day in question. Some bills were skipped over for days, despite being on the Senate calendar.

Meanwhile, Wirth, an attorney who has served in the Senate since 2008 and previously served in the House, said he has not yet met with Gov. Susana Martinez since being elected majority floor leader by fellow Senate Democrats.

“It’s not a relationship that’s been one of constant meetings, but it’s also not one I’d describe as negative,” Wirth said in an interview when asked about his relationship with the two-term Republican governor.

He also said the state’s budget crisis – sagging revenues have led to sweeping budget cuts and more action is likely needed – will require bipartisan troubleshooting in the coming 60-day legislative session.

“The budget situation is so serious, we all need to have a seat at the table,” Wirth said.

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