Playing Chicken With Millions
Senators battled as the final moments of the 2011 legislative session ticked away
By Marisa Demarco and Christie Chisholm
If an eye for an eye makes everyone blind, a bill for a bill leaves our roads messed up and our senior centers unfunded.
During the legislative session, most measures are passed in the final days, hours and even minutes. As the clock wound down on Saturday, March 19, lawmakers threw a wrench in the works to force one of the governor’s priorities through. But it didn’t work, and in the end, Gov. Susana Martinez’ “social promotion” education bill got left behind—and so did millions for improvements around the state.
Republican Sens. John Ryan (Albuquerque) and Rod Adair (Roswell) filibustered the capital outlay bill, which would have supplied $237 million to projects such as road rehab, university buildings, senior centers and more. Because the measure died, the state can’t try to get the federal government to match funds, either.
Ryan and Adair whiled away the time by talking nonsense to pressure Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) into allowing the social promotion bill to be heard. That measure was aimed at stopping third-graders who can’t read proficiently from moving on to fourth grade.
The Alibi spoke with Rep. Mary Helen Garcia (D-Las Cruces) about the social promotion legislation she sponsored at the start of the session. The retired school principal said this has been the law all along, but her bill would make it so that parents couldn’t object to their children being held back. “If they go beyond the third grade not being able to read for comprehension, that’s where the problems begin.”
But Senate Majority Leader Sanchez wouldn’t budge, and neither the education bill nor the capital outlay bill passed. There are rumblings that a special session may be in order.
Since the session was of the 60-day variety (as opposed to the 30-day version held in even-numbered years), hot social topics crowded legislators plates. Here’s roundup of the major bills and their fates. (MD)
... And Licenses for All
Fed by fumes from the 2010 campaign cycle, the issue of undocumented immigrants remained forefront through the session. Legislators and the guv made a play to change the policy in New Mexico and bar those without Social Security numbers from getting driver’s licenses.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez (the legislator from Hatch declines to state his political party) made it through the House. The Senate amended it to allow undocumented immigrants to get licenses but stiffened requirements and penalties. The House never adopted that amendment. Both bodies have to turn out the exact same measure for it to hit the governor’s desk for signature.
Martinez has promised to use her authority and buckle down on the issue regardless. (MD)
Marriage for the Masses
Take one step forward and someone (or in this case, three someones) will try to knock you back two more.
Early this year, Attorney General Gary King issued an official opinion stating that same-sex marriages performed in other states could be recognized in New Mexico. On the heels of that announcement, Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington), Rep. Nora Espinoza (R-Roswell) and Rep. David Chavez (R-Los Lunas) all introduced measures asking that marriage be defined as solely between a man and a woman in this state. Chavez’ resolution, along with another bill he filed, goes a step further, proposing that same-sex marriages performed in other states not be recognized here, nullifying King’s opinion.
The measures would have needed to be approved by voters before being signed into law, but none of them made it out of their various committees. (CC)
More Police Crisis Training
Jonelle Ellis got word on Friday, March 18, that the bill she helped draft was heading to Gov. Martinez for a signature. “I am very excited,” Ellis says. “I hope she signs it. I think she will, because she’ll know how important it is to the community and the police officers.”
Her brother, Kenneth Ellis III, was shot by Albuquerque police officers in January 2010 [“Peace Officer,” March 10-16, 2011]. An Iraq War veteran, Ellis had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He was pulled over at a 7-Eleven and got out of his vehicle with a gun to his head. Ellis was surrounded by police, and though reports indicate he never pointed his gun at anyone but himself, he was killed.
Jonelle Ellis and lawyer Frances Crockett Carpenter created a measure that adds 10 hours of crisis intervention to cadet training statewide and requires annual update courses [“An Army of One,” Jan. 13-19, 2011]. “That was my main goal,” Ellis says, “to make sure that every year there’s a refresher so police don’t forget that some people are in crisis.” (MD)
Your Criminal System on Drugs
Here’s a commonsense way to save money, free up jail space and just be plain reasonable: Don’t send nonviolent drug offenders to the big house. Instead, require them to get treatment for up to 18 months. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard C. Martinez (D-Española) and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque), does just that. A similar measure worked its way through the 2010 session but failed eventually, [“A High Price,” Feb. 4-10, 2010]. For critics worried about follow-through, the measure allows for offenders to go to jail if they break the terms of their treatment plans. Plus, the treatment option is only available to someone twice.
The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act passed both the Senate and the House and is on its way to the governor’s desk. (CC)
Secret Money Sources
A measure sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) that would have increased transparency during campaign season died at the last minute.
The bill would have made political activists report how much they spend supporting or trashing candidates [“Mysterious Influences,” March 3-9, 2011]. The legislation’s failure is going to make 2012 pretty scary with “no way to keep track of all the cash that’s about to flow into our elections,” writes Steve Allen, Common Cause New Mexico’s executive director, in an e-mail. (MD)
What Does a Girl Have to Do to Get a Vote Around Here?
Requiring photo IDs at the polls has been a controversial topic for years. Some say the practice would cut down on undocumented immigrants trying to cast ballots. Others argue there’s no evidence to suggest that’s even a problem and such a stipulation would only disenfranchise voters. Rep. Dianne Miller Hamilton (R-Silver City) and Sen. Steven Neville (R-Aztec) both introduced legislation that would require voter IDs at the polls, but neither bill got very far. (CC)
This Business We Call “Show”
Incentives for the film industry have long been a point of contention in our state. Do they bring business? Or just take away cash? Somehow, conclusive numbers aren’t available, but that hasn’t prevented show biz in New Mexico from becoming a flashy political target.
The House and Senate approved a $50 million annual cap on film incentives. Lawmakers may be pushing their luck, though. Martinez promised to veto any cap larger than $45 million.
Reuters estimates that we’ve spent, on average, about $65 million each year. Scott Darnell, spokesperson for Gov. Martinez, says this could save about $23 million annually and help prevent the gouging of public education. New Mexico is among 20 states that put up this much (or more) to bring film to their regions. (MD)
Death Died on the Table
Gov. Bill Richardson repealed the death penalty in New Mexico in 2009. The new guv wants to reinstate it. In her corner is Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell), who sponsored legislation that would have put the question of reinstatement to voters. But it was tabled in the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque). Chasey is a vocal opponent of the death penalty, having introduced the bill that repealed it two years ago [“The End of the Death Penalty?,” Jan. 29 - Feb. 4, 2009]. (CC)
A Break for Servers
With broad support, a measure passed the Legislature that would decrease the penalty for a server who unwittingly sells alcohol to a minor—the first time. Under the law today, licensed servers face a fourth-degree felony and a max of 18 months in jail or a $5,000 fine. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque), reduces that to a petty misdemeanor with a max of six months in jail and a potential $500 fine.
"We must always make sure that the penalty is in line with the offense. Servers and bartenders should not have to worry about picking up a felony when they go to work," Maestas says in a news release. (MD)
Repro Rights Preserved
A host of bills relating to abortion flew into the Legislature this year. Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington) was the primary pusher. He sponsored one bill that would prohibit late-term abortions (it was tabled). He also brought forth another that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks—based on the assumption that by that time, fetuses are able to feel pain. It never escaped committee, and neither did an identical one sponsored by Rep. Dennis J. Roch (R-Texico). Sharer also put up a third measure prohibiting abortion clinic staff from “intentionally and repeatedly” contacting patients against their wishes (also tabled).
But the blitz didn’t stop there. Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-Los Lunas) introduced a measure that would have required parental notification when underage daughters request abortions, with a few exceptions.
Lastly, Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque) sought to prevent school-based health clinics from giving advice related to reproductive health—namely, anything to do with contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted infections, or reproductive processes and functions.
Both failed in committee.
Despite all attempts, the laws surrounding abortion in New Mexico remain unchanged. (CC)
More history on these issues and links to the legislation at alibi.com.
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