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Lawmakers to Gov: Slow Down!

By Trip Jennings
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— State lawmakers had some early advice for the governor Monday: Whoa!
    When they convene their 30-day session today, the 112 part-time legislators will face plenty of issues, many of them coming from Gov. Bill Richardson.
Legislature Starts Today
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Katharine Kimball/Journal
Assistant sergeants-at-arms Frank L. Montoya, left, and Wilfred Quintana proofread batches of legislative stationery in the House chamber at the Capitol on Monday as they help prepare for the opening of N.M.'s 2006 session.

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  • Governor's State of the State Address on the Web Today more

  • Photos from this week's ABQjournal.com
  • Journal Photos

  •     "We are asking as we speak (for) the governor not to give us too many messages," said Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, referring to the formal requests for bills the governor sends to lawmakers.
        The governor sets the agendas for the Legislature's 30-day sessions, in which the No. 1 job is passing a budget. The state constitution says the legislators have 30 days to do that and whatever else might arise.
        Richardson, who outlines his agenda in his State of the State address today, and who is up for re-election this year, has indicated that a lot will arise.
        "I've said to the legislators, 'Expect a 90-day session in 30 days,' '' Richardson told The Associated Press.
        In addition to the budget, he has dubbed the 2006 session the "Year of the Child" and called for a long list of programs to help children. He's also indicated he will ask for a state minimum wage law, ethics and election reforms and tax breaks.
        Lujan specifically hoped that Richardson won't include the issue of medical marijuana on what is commonly referred to as his "call" for legislation.
        A measure that died in last year's 60-day "long session" of the Legislature would have allowed sick patients to use marijuana therapeutically without breaking state law.
        The medical marijuana issue would be best left to the 60-day session next year, the speaker said.
        Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, expressed concern that a 30-day session was not long enough to properly address ethics reform.
        "This is a budget session. That's what we should focus on," he said.
        Richardson, among other issues, wants to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program, add 200 physical education teachers and appropriate money for new schools in six high-growth districts.
        He wants a portion of the huge amount of money available for capital outlay projects— an estimated $1.1 billion— for a spaceport in southern New Mexico.
        He also wants the Legislature to increase penalties for selling methamphetamine and for corrupt conduct by public officials.
        House Democrats commended the governor Monday for key parts of his agenda, including the "Year of the Child" proposals, but the approval didn't necessarily extend across the aisle.
        "His version of the Year of the Child is to spend all the money now and make the children pay for it later," said Rep. Richard Cheney, a Republican from Farmington.
        Cheney said some Republican lawmakers were working on proposals to combat what they see as profligate spending by the Democratic administration.
        "At this time, maybe we should refund the money or put the money back into the permanent fund," Cheney said, citing big state revenue windfalls from oil and gas production in New Mexico.
        A few differences with Richardson even emerged among the House Democrats on Monday.
        Rep. Joe Stell, D-Carlsbad, said he would push to put $100 million into the unfunded state Water Trust Permanent Fund to help pay for improvements to the state's water system. Richardson has proposed $70 million.
        Eventually, he said, the money could help New Mexico compete for water rights in the Salt Basin under Otero and Chavez counties, which is a large and mostly untapped underground water reserve south of Alamogordo.
        "Water is our future," Stell said.
    Address Broadcast on Web
        Anyone with a computer and Internet access can catch Gov. Bill Richardson's State of the State address live this afternoon, according to the Governor's Office.
        The speech, which will likely begin between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., following the noon opening of the 2006 Legislature, will be Webcast at www.governor.state.nm.us.
        It's the first time a New Mexico State of the State speech has been offered live on the Internet, a Richardson news release said.
        For those who can't catch the speech live, a video/audio recording also will be posted at that same Web site.

    E-MAIL writer Trip Jennings