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Editorial: New floor leader brings hope for more open Senate

Newly elected Senate floor leader Peter Wirth’s plan to give fellow senators, the public, lobbyists and the media a day’s notice on what bills the Senate will debate and vote on during the upcoming 60-day legislative session is a clear win for transparency and public involvement in the lawmaking process.

Former floor leader Michael Sanchez’s practice of announcing the bills, and the order in which they would be heard, at the beginning of each day’s Senate session left those same constituents guessing when the bills they supported or opposed might make it to the floor, if ever.

Imagine having to wait for days to find out, at the last minute, that “your” bill was coming up for consideration. That’s hardly an efficient way of gathering input from all concerned parties.

The House, with few exceptions, has done what Wirth is proposing for years.

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 makes the post a powerful one, and it becomes especially so in the final days of a legislative session when bills become bottle-necked as the clock ticks toward recess.

Sanchez lost his bid for re-election in November to Republican Gregory Baca and his leadership style that included strict control of the calendar is likely part of the reason for his loss.

Wirth’s proposed changes would also make it easier to track how each senator voted – or didn’t vote – on that day’s legislation.

We hope that some of the bills on issues of importance to New Mexico, including crime, education and the economy, that regularly have died in Senate committees will now start making it to a floor vote under the new leadership. New Mexicans deserve to know how their legislators stand on the issues.

Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, correctly notes that the gap between the state’s projected revenues and expenditures – a multimillion-dollar chasm that seems to grow wider every day – will require cooperation from both sides of the aisle.

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

Knowing in advance which bills will be debated on the floor can only improve that cooperation, with the added bonus of transparency. Best wishes to Wirth as he takes on this difficult role.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.