Each session, legislators close down with the call of sine die, from the Latin, which translates literally as “without a day,” meaning there’s no telling when they may meet again. Of course, that’s ridiculous: Gov. Bill Richardson loves his special sessions and, no matter what, they’ll be back in January 2010 for the 30-day budget session.
Nevertheless, the first session of the 49th Legislature came to an end March 21. If we were never to see these lawmakers again, here’s how SFR would remember them.
TOP 3 THEATRICAL BILL PASSAGES
House Bill 285 Abolish the Death Penalty: After a decade of lobbying, New Mexico became the first Wild West state to bring an end to the death penalty. In prior years, the bill by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but this time around it went all the way and ended with a surprising 24-18 Senate vote for passage. Prior to signing, Gov. Bill Richardson used his entire three days to give TV interviews about his internal struggle and then solicited opinions from nearly 10,000 individuals, 70 percent of whom, including the Pope and former President Jimmy Carter, supported the repeal.
HB 393 Open Conference Committees: For many in the public, this was an arcane bill; few know what happens in conference committees because they’ve always been closed to the public. Basically it’s where members of the House and Senate harmonize different versions of the same bill—legislators have unlimited authority to amend the bills during those crucial private minutes. The first Open Conference Committee happened at a little after 10 am on the final day of the session (SFR tweeted it). That’s where Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Hidalgo, accused Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, of adding a shady amendment to an otherwise passable bill. An hour and a half later, Luján confronted Smith on the floor and called him a “racist SOB” and “full of shit” before several members of the media.
SB 504 Feral Hog Control: Plenty of ridiculous-sounding bills are introduced each year, but very few actually pass and next to none receive unanimous votes. But SB 504 did. The bill from Sen. Phil Griego, D-Los Alamos, bans the transport, breeding and hunting of feral hogs for commercial purposes. In showmanship, it became the most-anticipated legislation of the session for the ad nauseam use of “lipstick on a pig” jokes.
TOP 3 SPECTACULAR COLLAPSES
SB 12 Domestic Partner Rights & Responsibilities: With an enormous joint committee session on the Senate floor, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, carried the bill easily through the Public Affairs Committee only to see it stall in the Judiciary Committee when Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Bernalillo, avoided voting on the controversial legislation and stuck it in limbo. Pressure from constituents forced Sanchez back to the table for a vote so the bill could move to the Senate floor. When it did, McSorley unveiled a new version that eliminated any language remotely connected to same-sex marriage. It was supposed to have been a late-night compromise, but the final failed vote, 17-25, was greater than years past.
HB 577 College of Santa Fe Acquisition: With a backdrop of pirates and zombies, Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, introduced himself as the crusader determined to save the College of Santa Fe. HB 577, which would have allowed a state university to acquire CSF, zipped through the House and continued through the Senate Education Committee. But then Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Hidalgo, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, stripped its $3 million appropriation and refused to let HB 577 leave committee. CSF students staged an overnight protest on the last night of the session to no avail.
SB 249 Tax Increment Development Projects: T’was the lobbyist bill of lobbyist bills. Calif-based SunCal/Westland Development Corporation hired eight lobbyists to bring home nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money to build a new community on the west side of Albuquerque. The bill passed out of the Senate by a huge 29-9 margin, with only the progressive contingent voting against it. On the eve of sine die, the bill came up in the House, where it died once on a tie (boom!), then died a second time on a tie on whether to reconsider (boom-shalack!).
SANTA FE LEGISLATOR STATS
One way to measure lawmakers’ efficacy is to calculate what percentage of their bills passed (keep in mind some bills face stiffer battles than others: “Spay Day Española” really ain’t that contentious). Although the governor still has several weeks to decide whether to sign or veto their legislation, here are the results for local lawmakers, ranked in order of percentage of bills passed/introduced.
1. Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe: 80% (8/10)
Most of the bills Wallace introduced were memorials (eg, naming Feb. 23 as “YMCA Day”), but her big accomplishment was the “Safer Cigarette & Firefighter Protection Act,” otherwise known as the “Keep Puffing Act” because it requires tobacco companies to only sell self-extinguishing cigarettes in New Mexico.
2. Rep. Lucky Varela, D-SF: 48% (15/31)
As deputy chairman of the House Appropriation & Finance Committee and vice chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, Varela hauled a lot of the money bills through the legislative process.
3. TIE: Sen. Peter Wirth, D-SF: 42% (10/24); Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Mora, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, SF and Taos: 42% (5/12)
For a freshman, Wirth made great strides on the most diverse range of issues of the entire Santa Fe delegation: campaign finance reform, electronic medical records, animal abuse and stalking. Conversely, all of Salazar’s successes were memorials, such as “Northern NM College 100 Years, Congrats.”
4. Sen. Phil Griego, D-LA, Mora, Sandoval, SM, SF and Taos: 40% (17/43) Griego passed more legislation than the rest of the delegation, including the creation of Santa Fe 400th Anniversary license plates, feral hog control and the delay of the clean car emissions deadline from 2011 to 2013.
5. Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-SF: 33% (8/24)
Trujillo created more work for the Public Regulation Commission: It will now oversee propane services.
6. Rep. Rhonda King, D-Bernalillo, SF and Torrance: 30% (8/27)
King championed a bill to allow county clerks to unload debt incurred by buying electronic voting machines and then having to switch back to paper ballots. She also passed a bill to eliminate the right to a jury trial in cases where jail time isn’t on the table.
7. Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-SF: 30% (3/10)
Rodriguez’ bills create an Office of the Governor’s Council on Women’s Health and a discount on gaming and fishing licenses for disabled veterans.
8. House Speaker Ben Luján, D-SF: 28% (14/50)
As the man in charge of the House, he carried a lot of the porky stuff but also carried the Green Jobs Bonding Act, which lays the groundwork for a New Mexico green-energy economy.
9. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-SF: 27% (6/22)
This freshman’s big success was a memorial, HM 113, which spurred action on the monolithic electrical box in the Santa Fe Plaza.
10. Sen. Richard Martinez, D-LA, RA and SF: 21% (7/33)
The bills Martinez passed were largely “cleanups” and minor fixes for previous legislation.
11. Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-LA, RA, SF and Taos: 20% (8/40) Cisneros’ successful bills focused largely on energy and environment, including loans for water projects and a tax credit of up to $60 million for renewable-energy power plants.
12. Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Bernalillo, Sandoval and SF: 0% (0/2)
You read that right. Nothing.