From the Roundhouse: Cool Off

February 4th, 2014 at 6:44 pm by under Latest Posts, Politics

It’s always an awkward situation when lawmakers are asked to pass laws that almost exclusively affect lawmakers.

This year a proposal backed by Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, and Governor Susana Martinez would limit the jobs lawmakers can get in their first two years after leaving office. Specifically, it keeps them from being lobbyists.

The proposal, which would also apply to cabinet secretaries and PRC commissioners, has both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.

The idea, also called a “cooling off” period, isn’t new. Lawmakers looked at a similar idea two years ago. On top of that 31 other states have similar “cooling off” laws in effect.

But New Mexico is a special case.

Unlike other states, state lawmakers here are not paid a salary and get no full-time staff. As legislators frequently tell me, it’s a full-time job with less than part-time pay to serve in Santa Fe.

Because of the expertise and access former lawmakers have to their colleagues, it’s not surprising that they make for good lobbyists.

According to Common Cause NM, 26 former legislators are currently paid lobbyists working this session.

Some of the more prominent names on that list are former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez and former Senate President Pro-Tem Richard Romero.

By my own relatively quick research, at least three of those registered lobbyists were serving as lawmakers during the 2012 session, just two years ago.

Former Sen. Clinton Harden, R-Clovis, is listed as a paid lobbyist for five separate entities. Former Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, D-Albuquerque, is listed as a lobbyist for Navajo Technical University. Former Rep. Andy Nunez, I-Hatch, is currently listed as working for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and the Carlsbad Irrigation District.

At the first hearing for the House version of the proposal in the House Business & Industry committee, there was significant opposition.

House Minority Leader Rep. Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, opposed the bill because he doesn’t believe unpaid citizen lawmakers should have the extra penalty of having their job prospects limited when they’re done serving.

Despite that opposition, HBIC narrowly approved sending the bill forward on a 6-5 vote. That vote was divided far more on experience in the legislature than on party lines.

With some exceptions “No” votes tended to come from veteran lawmakers. The five who voted against were Rep. Bratton (first session in 2001), Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces (first session in 1997), Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales (first session in 2003), Rep. Thomas Taylor, R-Farmington (first session in 1999) and Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming (first session in 1999).

“Yes” votes came, in all but two cases (Rep. Jim Trujillo and Rep. Debbie Rodella) came from first and second term lawmakers.

It’s unclear where the bill will go from here. But as long as lawmakers aren’t paid and as long as other states implement “cooling off” laws there will likely be a debate over lobbying in the Roundhouse.

 

INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY

SJR 21

Anyone who watches Congress on a regular basis is very familiar with the highly charged committee hearings with high profile witnesses. It made quite the stage for the issue of baseball and steroids a few years ago as well as hearings on Benghazi in recent months.

Now Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, want to bring a little taste of Washington to Santa Fe.

SJR 21 is a constitutional amendment would give the legislature and legislative committees the power to compel witnesses to attend and testify under oath and produce evidence when requested. It would give lawmakers an investigative power they don’t currently possess.

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