At noon on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the New Mexico state Legislature convenes for this year’s 60-day session. Foremost on many lawmakers’ minds is the state budget shortfall—estimated by the Legislative Finance Committee at $215 million and by the governor’s office at $450 million—but 60-day sessions usually afford some time for other pursuits, too.
The range of pre-filed bills offers a window into likely points of contention this session: tax policy, education, and government corruption and transparency. There are bills to create new cabinet departments and other bills to destroy existing ones. There are bills to abolish one tax credit (for films) and establish another (for electric cars).
One bill relaxes the state’s handgun laws; another allows blood testing for suspects arrested for boating while intoxicated.
Some of the big-ticket items from years past could also be in the offing, but legislators aren’t saying.
“It’s undecided,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, says, when asked whether he plans to reintroduce the domestic partnership bill that was tabled by the Senate Finance Committee last session. Either way, McSorley says he plans to introduce “three or four pieces of legislation” concerning the state fairgrounds and “clarifying the designation of who goes on the sex offender registry.”
According to SFR’s analysis, McSorley falls squarely in the middle of legislators’ bill-filing activity. The average state senator introduced 16.7 bills during the last 60-day session in 2009, and only 6.7 bills during last year’s 30-day session. Over the past two years, between 15 and 20 percent of all legislation introduced was actually enacted, but only a fraction of a percent was vetoed. How aggressively Gov. Susana Martinez will employ the veto pen remains to be seen.
We’ve highlighted a few of the bills that have caught our attention.
Open Government Award
Electronic Copies of Public Records (SB 52)
Sen. Stephen Fischmann, D-Doña Ana
Fischmann’s bill adds to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act a stipulation allowing members of the public to request their records in a specific format.
“When something is a computer record and someone requests that you either email or send a disk, you should be required to do that,” Fischmann says of state agencies providing records. “It saves everybody money; it saves everybody time.”
(Public bodies would be able to charge for the price of the disk.)
Fischmann says the idea for the bill came from his own experience.
“Prior to taking office, I had been trying to get ahold of public records from the [state] Land Office and from local agencies,” he explains. “It was records that you damn well knew were sitting there on a computer, and they were going to charge me a dollar a page to copy these voluminous documents on a copier,” he says. “It was clear to me this was just obstructionism—making it too expensive and take too long and hoping I would go away.”
Limit State Legislator Terms (HJR 2)
Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Chaves
Kintigh’s resolution would propose a constitutional amendment to limit terms for state legislators to 12 years—three terms for state senators and six for state representatives.
“This is nothing original on my part,” Kintigh says. “There’s been debate and talk about term limits in the Legislature for decades.”
Kintigh says he doesn’t know whether the proposal will go any further this year, but, he says, “at least we’ll have this debate.”
Among his other proposals is HB 19, a bill that ends the 25 percent tax credit for films produced in New Mexico.
“We have raised taxes, cut public employees’ salaries—and we’re giving tens of billions of dollars away,” Kintigh says. “This is not a tax credit; that’s one of the big myths,” he adds. “This is a subsidy.”
For the Dogs
Dogs in Certain Outdoor Restaurant Areas (SB 11)
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe
Wirth’s bill essentially allows Santa Fe restaurants to opt in to allowing dogs on their outdoor patios.
“It doesn’t force anybody to have dogs on patios, and in no way does it allow dogs inside restaurants,” Wirth tells SFR. “They already allow this in Albuquerque; it used to be done here in Santa Fe, but the state kind of started
that were on the books” [News, Dec. 9, 2009: “Puppy Parameters”].
Wirth also has pre-filed some more…well, serious bills. His
(SB 6) is designed to close a corporate tax loophole by making out-of-state corporations report all of their income and pay taxes equal to what local businesses pay.
“It’s a terrific bill for New Mexico small businesses,” Wirth says. It is, however, the seventh time he’s introduced the bill—as yet to no avail.
“Seventh time’s a charm!” he says.
School Capital Outlay, Grants and Consolidation (SB 2)
Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Bernalillo
Beffort’s bill, of which she will also introduce a revised version, proposes to give small schools a boost by allowing them a bigger share of capital outlay funds.
“These big megaschools are not producing better results,” Beffort tells SFR. Under her small-schools bill, co-sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Hidalgo, “You could still build a megaschool—but you wouldn’t get as much, as a percentage, of capital outlay monies as you would if you built a small school,” Beffort explains.
Beffort says she’s hopeful that under the new education secretary, small schools advocate Hanna Skandera, education reform will have more support.
“Experts are saying that children are learning better in small schools,” Beffort says. “I’m excited about it. It’s one of the systemic changes that the state can make in hopes that we get better results.”
To Your Health
Health Policy and Finance Department Act (SB 15)
Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Bernalillo, and Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Bernalillo
“Expect a couple of bills on this topic,” Feldman tells SFR. This one, which would create a new cabinet department to consolidate all Medicaid and programs, is an outgrowth of several proposals considered by the
, an interim legislative committee whose members will carry several bills aimed at increasing government efficiency.
Feldman says putting all of New Mexico’s myriad Medicaid functions under one umbrella department will contain costs by reducing redundancies.
“It’s to give some rationality to our healthcare spending and use our Medicaid funds wisely,” Feldman says. “We’re leaving a lot of money on the table as it is right now. This bill is an effort to get some of that money and use it so we can provide quality services to more people.”
Feldman is also sponsoring the creation of a statewide health insurance exchange and a bill requiring greater transparency in setting health insurance rates.