It took the Senate Committee on Committees more than a half-hour to get a quorum,
but once they did, business was short, sweet and—gasp!—efficient. The only problem is that efficiency sometimes means getting rid of good ideas.
Today, the casualties included SB 220
, a bill introduced by Sen. John C. Ryan, R-Bernalillo, to prohibit the state from defending public employees when (a) the state is also the plaintiff or (b) action is brought under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
In presenting the bill, Ryan cited the ongoing Foy v. Vanderbilt
pay-to-play case, in which Ryan says the state's defense lawyers are refusing to release documents
that would help Foy's case. In that sense, Ryan told SFR in an interview after the committee meeting, SB 220 would
allow for more transparency by disengaging the state from legal battles with itself.
"When we're defending these state employees, we're basically hampering the state's ability to be successful,"
Ryan told the committee, noting that nearly $500,000 of the state's risk management budget goes to defending state employees
from allegations of wrongdoing, with "a good majority" going to the Foy case. SB 220's role, Ryan says, would lie in "protecting the solvency of the public liability fund"—and also protecting the state from subsequent payouts should its employees be convicted of taxpayer fraud. (If Foy wins, Ryan says, "the state could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars."
But despite Ryan's promises that the bill would save money, the Committees' Committee (which is far less silly an enterprise than its name suggest) agreed that SB 220 was a legal and policy issue, not a budget question
—a decision that didn't take Ryan entirely by surprise.
"I thought there was enough information relevant to how it affects the budget that it had a chance, but I knew it was an uphill battle," he tells SFR.
Other rejected bills
were Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort's SB 215
(the "Freeze Means Freeze Act"), which would more strictly enforce Gov. Bill Richardson's 2008 hiring freeze, and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino's behavioral health bill, SB 219
. According to committee vice-chair Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Valencia, anything that "does not deal with the budget or taxes" isn't germane.
Ryan, at least, is looking for a way around the committee's decision: Last night, he says, he sent a letter to the governor requesting a special message that would allow the bill to be considered. "I have not heard back from him," Ryan says. He's also considering adding some of the content of SB 220 as an amendment to another pay-to-play bill, though he says he hasn't decided which one.
"The policy question of the state being the plaintiff and the defendant in any case is outrageous,"
Ryan tells SFR. "There's no coordinated effort from the state government to be on one side or the other."