The so-called "right to work" bill suffered a major setback today after a failed attempt by Republican state senators to bypass committees and hear the measure on the Senate floor.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Chaves, made the motion to refer the bill to the committee of the whole—words for the entire Senate body—late Thursday afternoon. Ingle argued that the legislation, which would eliminate mandatory union fees as a condition of employment, is too important to the state to go through the Senate committee process.
"Sometimes no matter what side we're on, there's an issue that
affects the whole state and there’s something we all need to do," Ingle said on the floor. "This is one of
The motion failed on a 25-17 vote, with all Democrats voting no and all Republicans voting yes. The bill, dubbed the Employee Preference Act, is now assigned to three committees—Public Affairs, Judiciary and Finance—where it's widely expected to go down on party lines.
The bill has been a priority of Republicans this session in the wake of the GOP takeover of the state House of Representatives and Gov. Susana Martinez' landslide reelection. Democrats, backed by organized labor, have largely opposed the bill. It's since passed the House on a party line vote, save one conservative state Rep. Donna Irwin, D-Doña Ana.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Valencia, made a pledge to kill the bill at the start of the session. Two key conservative Democratic senators—John Arthur Smith and Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, both of Doña Ana County—also vowed to vote against any attempt to bypass the committee process with right to work.
Still, several Republican senators tried their damnedest to "blast" the bill to the floor.
"This motion to go to the whole helps the 42,000 [people] I represent have a voice," said state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Chaves, who doesn't sit on any of the committees that the bill has been referred to. "It can go to all eight committees, but guess what? The committee of the whole is all eight committees meeting at once."
If the bill wasn't blasted, Pirtle argued that all his constituents would be "silenced."
State Sen. Craig Brant, R-Sandoval, argued that the bill still hasn't being properly heard in the Senate so late in the session.
"We're on Day 44 of a 60-day session," Brant said. "We have a little more than two weeks left. And on an issue of this vital importance, we're going to send it to a committee so it can not be heard? I ask this body, is this really what you want to tell your constituents?"
At another point, state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-San Juan, claimed that "the whole country is watching what is happening in the New Mexico right now."
Near end of the debate, a few Democrats started speaking their opposition to the blast. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo, mentioned bills he supports that he's never gotten to vote on because of them dying in committees, including a state constitutional amendment to draw money from the Permanent Fund for early childhood education.
He added that the Senate Public Affairs Committee, which he chairs, will hear the bill Sunday and that the "everybody in the state is welcome to come."