Gov. Susana Martinez has packed the redistricting session with a variety of issues unrelated to redistricting, many of which could take on lives of their own.
Previous redistricting special sessions have focused completely on redistricting and noncontroversial emergency funding measures. But in the weeks before this year's special session, several lawmakers criticized what they called an ambitious agenda from the governor.
Martinez has 14 items that she wants legislators to tackle throughout the session. She didn't issue her proclamation enumerating these items until the morning of the session on Sept. 6 because the governor can't solicit campaign contributions between when session proclamations are made and 20 days after the session ends, Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, tells SFR.
Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, thinks Martinez' list of items is too much.
"The governor doesn't understand how difficult and stressful it is to go into a redistricting session," Garcia tells SFR. "There will be a lot of debate. Why are we going to be facing controversial issues?"
In an email to SFR, Martinez spokesman Greg Blair says all of the special session items have bipartisan support and that "many of them will be carried by Democrats."
But redistricting is itself a controversial issue, columnist Jay Miller notes. "Legislators will lose their seats," Miller, a retired teacher who's penned the syndicated Inside the Capitol column for more than 20 years, tells SFR. "We've had some knock-down, drag-out fights in the past."
In addition to the 30 redistricting plans furnished by Research & Polling, the Albuquerque firm contracted by the state to draw up potential legislative maps, lawmakers are allowed to present their own redistricting bills, which will likely make the process long and tedious.
Miller says House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, can effectively halt bills by refraining from referring them to committees. Luján says that's not the way he operates, but adds that redistricting will come first.
"It's hard to say what [other] issues might get addressed," Luján tells SFR. "There is no real emergency for some of these issues."
Here, read SFR’s summary of some of the more controversial non-redistricting items in store.
The most contentious issue of the session involves a push to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses. State Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Curry, who’s been piling up symbolic support of the repeal among cities and counties in his district all summer, will introduce the bill with state Rep. Andy Nuñez, I-Doña Ana.
Nuñez, who plans to introduce the bill early in the special session, calls it a no-brainer.
"Either you believe in the standing law or you don't," he tells SFR.
Roch has argued that, without changing the law, New Mexico won't be able to meet the federal Real ID Act, which tightens state ID standards in an effort to prevent terrorism. But 23 states have passed non-compliance resolutions opposing that law, and 17 have similar resolutions pending.
While Nuñez says “one or maybe two” senators are changing their minds on this (he wouldn’t say who), Luján expects a stalemate similar to the one that occurred earlier this year, during the general session.
This summer, when wildfires charred a record amount of New Mexico land, Martinez couldn’t do much more than lecture against them. State law prohibits her from banning the sale and use of fireworks, so the most she could do was issue a temporary state of emergency in late June and early July.
In July, though, Martinez said a fireworks ban would be considered during the special session.
"We had over 3,000 acres that burned in the state of New Mexico as a result of fireworks," she said in a press conference at the time.
Now, Martinez wants to pass a bill giving her and local governments power to ban fireworks during periods of extreme drought. Public meetings would be required before the bans are set in place.
Why is this controversial? Miller says New Mexico's powerful fireworks lobby may prevent legislators from voting for a ban.
“You have producers of fireworks in the state,” Miller says. “Often, they will put huge bags of fireworks on lawmakers’ desks.”
Garcia made headlines after backing down from her support of Martinez’ “social promotion” education initiative.
The measure would prevent third-grade students who don't meet required reading levels from advancing to fourth grade. Garcia says she changed her mind after hearing from her constituents that the measure could discriminate against minorities and children with disabilities.
"They said, 'Have you thought about children with disabilities and the cost to remediate them when you hold them back?'" Garcia tells SFR.
Garcia notes that, unlike a similar bill passed in 2000, the current version doesn’t allow a waiver for parents who dispute the decision to hold their children back. Now, Garcia says that, before any new law is passed, a group needs to be established to discuss social promotion.
Other issues could become contentious. Miller argues the capital outlay bill, meant to fund projects around the state, could become controversial if lawmakers start attaching their own projects to it. Martinez wants to find ways to fix the state’s unemployment fund, but has pledged against raising taxes on employers to do so. Other issues on the agenda include items the governor supports but vetoed last session on technicalities.
Lawmakers and the governor are also working on limited time. With state law limiting special sessions to 30 days and the legislature calling only a limited number of committees in order to save money, Miller says he expects this one to last around 15-20 days.