SANTA FE – Nearly 280 bills made it to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk this session – a big rebound from two years ago, when the Legislature was divided between a Republican-majority House and a Democratic Senate.
But the number of bills passed this year is roughly in line with what she received in 2011 and 2013 – the first 60-day sessions of her tenure.
Still, this year’s session didn’t produce as many bills as the Bill Richardson and Gary Johnson eras, the two governors who preceded Martinez. It was common for lawmakers in the 1990s and early 2000s to pass more than 400 bills during a 60-day session.
Regardless, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said this week that it’s unwise to judge a session’s productivity based on the raw number of bills.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, noted that ethics and campaign-finance legislation made it through both chambers for the first time after years of effort. The ethics commission had been debated for decades.
Other important legislation among the 277 bills passed, he said, included measures banning the use of “conversion therapy” aimed at changing a young person’s sexual orientation and making it easier for transgender people to change the gender recorded on their birth certificates.
“I definitely think it was a worthwhile session,” Wirth said.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the new Democratic majority in his chamber fulfilled its promises to pass a minimum-wage increase and encourage the development of high-speed internet networks, in addition to passing the ethics and campaign-disclosure bills.
“I’m incredibly proud of the Legislature,” he said.
Martinez, a Republican in her second term, reiterated her criticism that legislators wasted time. She has vowed to veto the budget they passed – partly because it includes tax increases.
“If the people of New Mexico knew lawmakers were spending their time debating and arguing over holiday songs and official state dances, they would be disgusted,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “They must have had a lot of fun, but it was at the taxpayers’ expense. What a waste of 60 days.”
The governor has until April 7 to decide whether to sign or veto most bills passed by the Legislature – such as proposals to impose new limits on the small-loan industry, consolidate nonpartisan elections and prohibit the use of solitary confinement for some inmates. She has already suggested she will veto two competing proposals to increase the minimum wage.
The ethics commission, which is a proposed constitutional amendment, doesn’t require the governor’s signature. It goes to voters in 2018.
Martinez over the weekend allowed two bills to become law – one authorizing the New Mexico Finance Authority to make loans for certain water projects, the other clearing the way for license plates honoring fallen police officers.
House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said he was disappointed by the Legislature’s production. But the ethics legislation, he agreed, was a bright spot.
“We passed a lot of license plate bills,” he said.