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 V.20 No.15 | April 14 - 20, 2011 

Making Sausage

Legislative Smackdown

This column's name, Making Sausage, is a reference to a quote widely attributed to Otto von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg. "Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."

From the view in the press box in Santa Fe, running a state looks arduous and frustrating. Lawmakers volley back and forth, nitpick over details, argue, dissect, and wheel and deal. And a 60-day session doesn't come cheap: lawmakers voted to spend a max of about $8.3 million on this one. (Financial reports on what was spent are not yet available.)

A bill has to run a gnarly obstacle course to become law. Committees come first, and many pieces of legislation lose their footing and die there. Then it has to swing through the House and Senate—a treacherous, ax-dodging task. Both bodies have to vote in favor of a bill for it to hit the governor's desk for signature. Once the guv signs off, then it's a law.

There were almost 1,300 bills introduced in the Legislature this year, and 284 were sent on to Gov. Susana Martinez. She signed 186 and vetoed 98. That means she killed 34.5 percent of the measures that made it through that sausage grinder of policy-making. (For more details on these stats, scan the QR code at the bottom of this column with your smartphone, or go to alibi.com.)

Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, who is considering a run for Congress, had six measures make it out of the Legislature alive, but all were vetoed. The Democrat from Albuquerque says politics may have played a part in their demise. One measure would have decreased the penalties for servers who inadvertently serve alcohol to minors, and another that would have allowed treatment instead of jail time for nonviolent drug offenders.

"The passage of the treatment bill was the culmination of a three- or four-year struggle," Maestas says. "It's actually a conservative approach to the war on drugs." Nationally, he says, those on the right are concerned about the climbing costs of prisons and jails. The reform would have saved the state's judicial system $18 million per year, he adds—money that could have gone to prosecuting violent offenders.

"She [the governor] has been in the trenches her entire life fighting crime," Maestas says. "I believe she's incapable of seeing the entire battlefield because she has the trench mentality. ... You have to allocate scarce resources."

The Governor's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Plenty of other lawmakers are unhappy with the vetoes as well. A measure that takes the guv off the State Investment Council was killed, along with other transparency measures sponsored by Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque). A bill that Sen. Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque) says would have increased state control of health insurance providers (and help New Mexico avoid heavier federal control) was also vetoed.

Maestas says though the measures didn’t get the signature, the fact that they passed still means something. "A bill that gets on the governor's desk is the will of the people through their elected senators and representatives."

 
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