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Friday, February 21, 2003

Lawmakers Happy at Halfway Point

By David Miles and Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Lawmakers remarked on smooth progress and good relations with Gov. Bill Richardson as New Mexico's 60-day session of the Legislature reached its halfway point and the cutoff for bill introductions Thursday.
    Democrats and Republicans alike said Richardson, who took office Jan. 1, has fostered a better relationship with lawmakers than his predecessor, Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who became known for a record number of vetoes.
    "We do have a governor up there on the fourth floor that's not just saying, 'Do this or I'll veto it,' '' said House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe. "I think that there's a lot more give and take."
    House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, also said he appreciated Richardson's hands-on approach with legislators.
    "Richardson's involvement has probably helped this be a smoother session," Hobbs said.
    Hobbs applauded Richardson for pushing legislators to quickly approve a five-year, $360 million package to lower the state's top personal income tax rate and the capital gains tax.
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, also said the session is going well. "We're having fewer longer debates, knock on wood," he said.
    Romero said things might get stickier as lawmakers consider issues such as abortion, drunken driving and allowing New Mexicans to carry concealed handguns.
    As of Thursday's deadline, 989 bills were introduced in the House and 880 bills were introduced in the Senate, not including so-called "dummy bills." Such bills have no subject, but lawmakers may later substitute legislation into them.
    So far, the only bills passed by the House and Senate are the tax cut package and a measure to pay for legislative operations and additional staff in the Governor's Office.
    But the Legislature invariably passes a small percentage of the measures introduced.
    In 2001, the last 60-day session, the Legislature passed 27 percent of 1,788 bills introduced.
    Richardson this week said he was pleased with the progress of the legislative session but expressed concern about differences over how he and lawmakers wish to spend money from settlements of multi-state litigation against tobacco companies.
    Lujan said legislators also need to address issues such as school reform, water, health care and Medicaid spending in the next 30 days.