From the Roundhouse: A “Germane” Compromise?

February 6th, 2014 at 7:27 pm by under Latest Posts, Politics

One of the interesting characteristics of these short 30-day “budget” sessions is who and how the legislative agenda gets set.

The New Mexico Constitution lays out the law:

B.   Every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall consider only the following:
(1)   budgets, appropriations and revenue bills;
(2)   bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor; and
(3)   bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

But there’s an interesting quirk. Although the NM Constitution gives the governor authority to determine the bulk of the legislative agenda in theory, the people who actually make the determination of what bills can be considered are the lawmakers themselves.

In the case of the House, that authority rests with the House Rules Committee (HRC). In the Senate it’s the delightfully named Committees’ Committee (SCC).

They have control over one key word that determines whether a bill can move forward during short sessions. That word is germane.

Bills that are germane go forward, bills that aren’t germane sit in those committees.

Because you have a Republican governor and a Democratic House and Senate, that authority can come in handy for ideas the governor may not otherwise want to have to deal with.

Democrats hold a dominant 8-3 edge on SCC. That appears to have played in the favor of SB 285.

At some point SCC ruled SB 285, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, germane. That decision certainly flew under the radar, but it’s very interesting on a couple of levels.

The biggest oddity is, as far as I can tell, Governor Martinez never messaged a minimum wage hike. So how is the bill germane? The answer isn’t spelled out in the committee report.

I spoke to Senate President Pro Tem and SCC chair Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, about that decision today. To paraphrase, Sen. Papen told me that because the bill has to do with money-related issues that was enough to “let it out”.

Unusual interpretation or not, that’s a significant move because it opens up the door to  a possible minimum wage compromise, or at least it did before Thursday night.

SB 285 would hike minimum wage to $8 an hour with some exemptions.

Last session, Democrats approved a minimum wage hike to $8.50 an hour (from the current $7.50) on a party line vote only to have the governor veto it. Earlier, Democrats had voted down Republican attempts at a compromise, a hike to $7.80 an hour that the governor said she’d sign.

One of the biggest reasons Governor Martinez cited in her veto was that $8.50 would be the highest minimum wage in the region. The $7.80 figure matched what Arizona’s was at the time. However, Arizona’s minimum wage increases annually (it’s now $7.90) and would likely be close to $8 an hour when SB 285 would kick in.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez told me today that he believes his minimum wage bill is something the governor could sign and perhaps the only route forward to even a modest minimum wage hike. A Governor’s office spokesperson says she hasn’t taken a stance on the proposal yet.

While Republicans may remain leery of the idea, Democrats aren’t getting behind the $8 an hour compromise anyway. The bill was tabled on a bipartisan vote in Senate Public Affairs with both Democrats and Republicans torpedoing the idea.

The two other Dem-backed minimum wage proposals are a proposed hike to $10 an hour and a constitutional amendment that would effectively raise minimum wage to $8.50 an hour and provide for annual increases.

The great irony here is that Sen. Clemente Sanchez has been taking a lot of heat from members of his own party for his stance on the minimum wage constitutional amendment. He has said that he plans on voting against it because he doesn’t believe it belongs in the constitution. That effectively means the bill is stalled in committee.

Because of that, although SB 285 was tabled Thursday, it’ll be interesting to see if the idea comes up again if other Democrat attempts to raise the minimum wage  continue to falter.

INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY

HB 163

I covered this bill earlier today . Today HCPAC unanimously passed it out on the consent calendar. The next stop for this loophole fix is HJC.

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