From the Roundhouse: Forgoing the Fourth FloorJanuary 27th, 2014 at 6:56 pm by Alex Goldsmith under N.M. Politics
With Democrats in control of the House and Senate and a Republican sitting in the Governor’s Office, it’s not surprising to see lawmakers looking to get around the executive branch and the Governor’s veto pen however they can.
There are three basic ways to do that in Santa Fe; through a constitutional amendment, overturning a veto or through a memorial. The first two involve taking action while the third is all talk. All three paths came up in interesting ways Monday.
On the constitutional amendment side, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, introduced SJR 14 on Monday. The proposal would give someone who’s a victim of identity theft, wrongfully arrested or has only misdemeanor convictions the right to petition to have those records expunged.
If that sounds familiar it’s because Sanchez has been fighting for this idea for years. In 2009, he was able to get it to then-Governor Bill Richardson’s desk but it was vetoed. Since then he’s gotten the proposal past the legislature twice more. Last year, the vote in the Senate to pass the bill was 41-0.
It was all for naught because Governor Martinez vetoed the proposal both times.
So Sanchez is going the constitutional amendment route. Democrats are pitching a minimum wage amendment for the same reason… Martinez vetoed their proposed pay hike last year. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino is trying to legalize pot the same way. There are also efforts in both chambers to go back to an elected state school board and take education out from the Governor’s grasp.
All of these proposals are bids to get around Martinez’s veto pen and, as an added plus for Democrats, attract voters to the polls in November who might ordinarily stay home.
Monday Senate Democrats took steps to resurrect two separate proposals that were vetoed last year.
Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, wants to override the Governor’s veto on a bill that would require tax expenditure budgeting. Basically Keller is looking for an accounting of each tax credit given out, including its effectiveness and how many jobs were created. Both Martinez and Richardson have vetoed the idea.
Because that bill passed the House 58-10 and cleared the Senate 37-0 last session, it appears that veto override could have the two-thirds vote needed. Then again, party pressure could keep Republicans from breaking ranks to go against Martinez in an election year.
The other veto override, an attempt to overhaul the state’s A-F grading system for schools by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, passed on something much closer to party lines (21-18 Senate, 35-32 House). To say it’s a long shot is an understatement, and it’s probably not unfair to attribute the effort to Morales’ gubernatorial bid.
This is perhaps the most frustrating type of legislation lawmakers use to, in some cases, get around the Governor.
For the uninitiated memorials are simply the legislature making a polite request, making a statement on some issue or honoring someone. The key thing to remember is that they have no legal effect like a bill does.
In the rest of this section, please note I’m not talking about memorials meant for a ceremonial purpose or to honor a deserving charity (something like creating a Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Day in the legislature).
With that disclaimer out of the way, there are plenty of memorials that are touted as real action when they are, in fact, nothing more than words.
An issue that came up Monday involved Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, making a stink about CYFD not showing up to her committee’s hearing on CYFD-related memorial SJM 3 .
Lopez, perhaps in a bid to drum up more attention for her gubernatorial bid, sent out a press release through the Senate Majority press office and claimed a CYFD snub.
Without getting into the “alleged snub”, there is a blatantly inaccurate claim as to what SJM 3 actually does in that press release that makes it appear to be more proactive than it really is:
The memorial would require CYFD to provide reports to the Legislature about its policies and practices regarding foster families, placement and follow-up, as well as issues related to protective services division operations.
In case you didn’t catch it, the sticking point is the word “require”. As stated above, memorials don’t and can’t “require” anyone to do anything. And in fact, the language of the bill is pretty clear on that:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that the children, youth and families department be requested to prepare a report on foster care in the state
The big difference here? If the memorial’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, wanted to actually make sure that report got done he could pass a bill funding it and mandating it. The problem is the Governor would have to sign off on that.
Memorials, because they don’t have any legal effect, just need to be passed by one or both chambers.
Because CYFD’s management and performance has become a bit of a political hot topic and a divisive, a memorial is a way to talk big and stir the pot without actually accomplishing anything. All talk… perhaps by design.
INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY
Imagine it’s the year 2020 and you ask a New Mexico high school student what language they’re taking. You might expect Spanish or French or maybe even Chinese Mandarin.
Under SB 148, introduced by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the answer to that question could be C++, BASIC, Java or Python.
Candelaria’s bill would allow high schools to offer a programming language to students that could be substituted for another foreign language.
It’s unclear if SB 148 will get a message or get heard during this short session, but it’s definitely an interesting idea.