From the Roundhouse: Waiting Game

February 10th, 2014 at 11:29 pm by under Latest Posts, Politics

We’re officially in the final third of the session now. That’s where the pace picks up and the multi-week buildup finally becomes legislative reality.

After the coming sprint, we’ll have a much better sense of how productive this session’s really been. But in this moment, the numbers certainly don’t look good. Take a look at the stats as of Monday night… The following does not include memorials.

Bills the House has passed: 17

Bills the Senate has passed: 5

Bills sent to the Governor’s desk: 1

I’ve covered a few of the bills that have passed one chamber: HB 211 (the Line of Duty Injury Act), SB 19 (Prohibit Texting While Driving) and SB 122 (School District PE Requirements).

Needless to say, a lot of the administration’s and Democrats’ priorities haven’t made it out of either chamber yet.

And the one thing lawmakers have to do in a “budget” session isn’t out of the House yet either. The $6.2 billion budget bill is still stuck in the House after a 34-34 tie on the floor Friday (Rep. Sandra Jeff, R-Crownpoint the lone Dem to break ranks). Senate Finance chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, is left to wait until a deal is struck to apply his own touch.

So why isn’t more done at this point? The answer is multi-faceted.

One of the biggest factors is the committee process. Bills frequently have two committee stops before they even reach the House or Senate floor for debate. It takes a while, especially for controversial legislation, to clear that process. Every committee chair is a potential roadblock that can stop legislation dead in its tracks by either voting it down or not scheduling it.

Ceremony is another time sapper. Everything from mariachi bands to dance groups have performed in both chambers. Recognizing specific “days” in the legislature also burns valuable floor hours, especially if the rostrum is loaded with guests.

Memorials have chewed up more than their fair share of the clock. While the Senate has only passed 5 bills, the chamber has passed 39 memorials. As I’ve explained before, none of these have any legally-binding effect. They’re simply communications, honorary certificates, requests for studies or a recognition of a person or day. They also take up lots of floor time.

In-depth, arguably political committee hearings have slowed down bills the last two years. Last session, the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, picked up the ball on the long-awaited confirmation of Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. After hours upon hours upon hours of testimony, the committee ultimately didn’t do anything one way or the other. Skandera’s confirmation is still being held up in Senate Rules as I write this.

Monday morning it was deja vu in a sense. Senate Rules again took up a hot political issue, the Downs racino deal. Political circus or not, it’s undeniable that legislatively, absolutely nothing got done as a result of the hearing. Because all of the Republican senators skipped the hearing (save, for a time, Sen. Sander Rue, D-Albuquerque) and not every Democrat was there, there was not a quorum and thus no action could be taken.

What’s frustrating for lawmakers, lobbyists and the public in that situation is that there were at least a dozen bills waiting for a committee hearing. Because of the lengthy Downs hearing, those bills have to wait at least another day to get heard. That’s been especially frustrating for marijuana legalization advocates who thought they were getting a committee hearing Friday for their proposed constitutional amendment and now have to wait until at least Tuesday.

The final reason is one that could rear its head more as we get towards the end of the session. The House is tight numbers-wise and, for the most part, only bills with broad support will be able to easily clear the chamber. Hey, it was enough to stop the budget.

 

INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY

SM 80

Memorials are not always serious.

This one’s a little late but check out SM 80, entitled “Draft Lt. Governor to Basketball Team”, a bid to recruit Lt. Gov. Sanchez to play for the Senate in last Friday’s bid to take down the House (which they did without his help 26-24). The memorial ends: BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this memorial be immediately and urgently transmitted to the office of the lieutenant governor, the house of representatives and national basketball association scouts.

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