From the Roundhouse: Floodgates… Open

February 13th, 2014 at 10:54 pm by under Latest Posts, Politics

1In the first 23 days of the legislative session, the House passed just 18 bills. That led to a frustrated outburst by House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, at the end of the day. He slammed the Speaker and Democrats for dragging their feet.

It became clear relatively early on in the floor session Thursday that the pace would increase dramatically.

When I interviewed Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, a little after 3 PM, he told me they’d tackled 20 bills and hoped to get to 10 more before the day was done. That may not have been the exact timing (they were stuck on the lawmaker lobbyist bill when he said that) but the Speaker’s overall math was dead on.

In all, per Chief Clerk Steven Arias the House passed 29 bills, killed one and significantly amended another on a frenzied day of action.

Although most of those bills were non-controversial and sailed through on lopsided votes, there were plenty of floor fights and the occasional hour long debate. It didn’t derail the train.

Tougher DWI penalties for serial offenders got the go-ahead (see INTERESTING BILL for more). A proposal to allow schools to stock emergency meds for food allergy emergencies sailed through (it cleared the Senate today too). A statewide ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors had no problems. So did a bill meant to crack down on horse doping at state race tracks.

Other bills had significant opposition.

In a vote that defied cynics statewide, Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, got HB 82 through on a 43-23 vote. That’s the bill that prevents cabinet secretaries and lawmakers from being lobbyists for two years after they leave their posts, a so-called cooling off period. Just like in committee, it wasn’t a complete partisan divide as 3 Democrats joined 20 Republicans in opposition, while 11 Republicans joined 32 Democrats in support. The vote had Bratton awfully upset, just as he was in committee.

The lone bill killed on the floor Thursday was HB 11, a proposal to give statewide elected officials a 10 percent pay bump (Governor, state auditor, PRC commissioners, etc.). That failed narrowly 32-29 with the help of a pair of Democrats and every Republican who voted.

And then there was a very interesting fight over one of Rep. Mimi Stewart’s, D-Albuquerque, bills. HB 67 aimed at increasing pay for teachers. House Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, made the case that the bill would put $126 million in federal funding at risk because it would violate the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, which Stewart called false. Gentry proposed a floor substitute to completely overhaul the bill. After a long fight, he succeeded with the aid of a pair of defecting Democrats. Stewart promptly withdrew a bill she said she didn’t recognize as her own anymore before it could get a full floor vote.

The burst of activity is a positive sign for the gridlocked House, although the biggest roadblock remains HB 2. In a budget session, the budget still appears to be hopelessly stuck on the House side. In interviews Thursday, there was a lot of finger-pointing and calls for compromise simultaneously. Meanwhile the Senate is starting its process on its side of the Roundhouse to try and continue working on the budget.

 

INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY

HB 175

The newest House representative, Rep. Vickie Perea, R-Belen, carried one of the Governor’s big DWI pushes this session. HB 175 was also Perea’s first bill to clear the full House.

The bill cracks down on serial DWI offenders, those who’ve earned at least their fourth conviction.

Fourth DWI offenses would now carry a minimum prison sentence of 18 months, up from 6 months. Penalties for 5th and 6th DWI’s get a bump too, but the really severe penalty kicks in for those who get their eighth conviction. Starting there, the minimum prison sentence is 10 years and it would be a 2nd degree felony. Currently, the penalties stop increasing after the seventh conviction.

What’s absolutely stunning in reading the fiscal impact report is that there are actually plenty of New Mexico drivers who get at least their eighth conviction every year. Here’s a quote from that report:

According to the New Mexico DWI Citation Tracking System, of the 8,191 people convicted of  DWI offenses in 2012, 357 people were convicted for the 4th time, 129 people were convicted  for the 5th time, 73 people were convicted for the 6th time, 34 people were convicted for the 7th time, and 46 people were convicted for the 8th or subsequent time.

You read that right, 46 people convicted of driving drunk eight or more times in one year alone.

Clearly something needed to be done, although some lawmakers don’t believe increased incarceration is the answer (5 Democrats and 1 Republican voted against the bill).

Congratulations to Rep. Perea on getting her first bill through the process!

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