Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the 2011 legislative session. It’s slated to adjourn on Saturday, March 19, at noon. The brunt of the work usually happens during the last hours, and lawmakers debate well into the final nights. Here’s what’s happened so far. Be sure to check back next week for a recap Making Sausage that will show you what passed and what got caught in the grinder.
Marijuana Program Can Exhale—Patients suffering from AIDS, cancer and epilepsy—among other conditions—can breathe a little easier this week. Freshman Rep. Jim Smith (R-Sandia Park) killed his own bill that would have pulled the plug on legal medical cannabis. In its place, Smith introduced a memorial asking the Department of Health to study its program and determine whether it’s valuable and if it increases crime.
Veto Power—Gov. Martinez has promised to terminate the driver’s license measure passed by the Senate. Initially, the bill forced the state to require a Social Security number before issuing a license. But it was chipped away at significantly as it banged around the Legislature. As it reads now, undocumented immigrants could still get driver’s licenses, but people who commit fraud would face stiffer penalties. In a news conference on Monday, March 14, Martinez said she wouldn’t sign the battered bill and that she hoped to convince lawmakers to “do the people’s work” over the next week or so. So, since this was a campaign promise and top legislative priority for the guv, will she call a special session if necessary to force it through? Actually, no. Martinez said in the same news conference that she wouldn’t.
Drug Policy Reform—A measure that would provide treatment instead of jail time for nonviolent drug offenders was a priority last year [“A High Price,” Feb. 4-10, 2010]. But it didn’t make it through that session, which became mired in budget debates. Coincidentally, the Legislative Finance Committee estimated that this policy change could save the state some cash. According to a report from that committee in 2010, taxpayers cough up $28,000 a year to jail a male inmate and $33,000 for a female inmate. Treatment programs costs somewhere in the ballpark of $2,000, according to the report. The bill passed the House but got lost in the shuffle as the clock wound down last year. Maybe that’s why it cleared the Senate in 2011 with little discussion or fanfare. It’s heading to the House Judiciary Committee.