The Roundhouse isn’t so much a maze as it is an MC Escher creation. The second floor is actually the ground floor. The office lists mounted next to the elevator actually describe a completely different building. You’re also just as likely to catch your own tail in those looping passages as you are to find your legislator’s office. (You could leave bread crumbs, but the lobbyists will eat them). Here are some tips for using the Internet to help you find your way through the sausage grinder of the Legislature.
1 Bill tracking: The New Mexico Legislature’s Web site leaves a lot to be desired (Arizona, Texas and Colorado each offer streaming video of committee hearings), but it does allow constituents to track the process of specific bills through the law-making process. It’s a meandering process straight out of Bill Keane’s Family Circus and severely over-acronymed. One of the best ways to track bills is to register a “Bill Watcher” account, which will automatically update movements of bills on your watch list.
You can also spot-check specific bills using the “Bill Finder” system.
2 Pork: Aside from passing new laws, legislators also earn kudos from their constituents by bringing home millions of dollars for community projects. In 2008, for example, Santa Fe’s delegation brought home more than $20 million in project money. These “capital outlay” projects are usually bundled in the “junior budget bill,” but this year there probably won’t be much with which to play. Once the session starts, information on requested projects will be posted online by the Legislative Council Service, so you can view projects by agency, county or legislative sponsor.
3 Public comment: With the exception of conference committees, all legislative hearings are open to members of the public, who have a right to be heard. (The right to petition the government is in the Constitution.) Practically speaking, letting everyone have a say is not always possible, especially when there are hundreds turning up to protest a measure. So, if you’re turning up in a large group, you should a) designate in advance a few individuals to represent your interests before the committee and b) make sure everyone behaves themselves, because the committee chairman does have the authority to order people ejected from proceedings. You can also file your comments in writing with each committee for consideration. Committees often have regular, preset hours, which can be accessed online.
4 The guv: The Legislature can only do so much; once it passes a bill, it’s up to the governor to make a final decision to sign it into law or veto it into oblivion. The governor’s actions, often with an explanation of his decisions, can be tracked online. The governor usually holds open office hours with the public once the session is over in order to hear final arguments on whether he should pass or veto legislation.
5 SFR: The Santa Fe Reporter will cover the session both in print, online and on its new blog site, sfreeper.com. We encourage you to post comments on legislation and to alert us to important hearings and decisions and minor, overlooked amendments throughout the 60 days. Last year, SFR also launched a research resource, MuckrakersGuide.com, which can be helpful for tracking legislation, lobbyists and the influence of campaign dollars throughout the session.