Legislature / News

Roundhouse 2013: What Came Out of the Sausage Grinder

By Eric J. Garcia

By Marisa Demarco
—When folks look down on the House or Senate chambers and see lawmakers making jokes, debating memorials or otherwise whiling away the hours, they might assume their politicians are unfocused—or lazy. But really, the back and forth, the dealmaking, is often happening somewhere else. Our legislators trade in alliances and political capital, and they don’t do it where everyone can see.

The system is opaque at best. Another symptom of this process is what I’ll politely call “the last-minute freakout.” As the session’s final hour draws near, bills emerge from dark corners, squinting in the light, and hit the floor for a vote. Things really begin to happen at the Roundhouse in the last week, the last day, the last minutes.  Suddenly, the previous 60 days come to a full boil.

The process isn’t easy to follow for laypeople. Say there’s a bill you really care about and you want to chart its progress in Santa Fe. It’s pretty hard to tell what’s really going on or when something important will happen.

At the very last possible second this year, legislators passed a block of tax changes—without having a chance to read it. Sen. John Arthur Smith, head of the Senate Finance Committee, drew the bill up the night before, and it was introduced with just an hour or so left in the session on Saturday. Gov. Susana Martinez had threatened to veto the budget and call everyone back to Santa Fe for a special session if tax reform didn’t get through.

The bill cuts corporate taxes and pulls some money back from city governments. It allows them to make up the difference by imposing higher gross receipts taxes. It also offers better breaks to TV shows filming in New Mexico.

On that note, let’s take a look at the highlight reel from the 2013 session.

Bills That Died

• A ban on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants
• Genetically modified food labeling
• The nationally controversial “abortion as evidence tampering” measure
• A statewide ban on texting while driving
• A rule requiring all parties in a conversation to consent to the recording of it
• A study on the economic impacts of legalizing marijuana in New Mexico
• Reduced penalties for possession of marijuana (Note: This one did pass the House but ran out of time in the Senate)
• A legal definition of “house of prostitution” that includes websites or online forums
• A measure allowing concealed weapons in liquor-serving restaurants
• Background checks for people buying guns at gun shows
• More restaurant liquor licenses in rural areas

Bills Heading to the Governor 

If a measure is approved by the House and the Senate, it heads to the governor for signature. Only then does it become law.

• Legislation calling for the testing of racehorses to prevent doping, and money to do it
• Protection for legislators’ private emails—they wouldn’t be subject to public information requests even if they’re about public business
• The creation of teams of medical professionals to help mentally ill people who cannot make treatment decisions
• Public Regulation Commission reform measures, including requirements for commissioners, and the removal of the Insurance and Corporations Divisions from PRC purview
• Liability protection for Spaceport-related businesses, such as manufacturers, and preparation, launch and flight crews
• A requirement that public bodies provide their meeting agendas 72 hours in advance
• A decreased penalty for servers who sell liquor to a minor—it goes from being a fourth-degree felony to a misdemeanor
• A statewide minimum wage hike from $7.50 to $8.50, which the governor has promised to veto

Already Signed

Gov. Martinez has already lent her signature to the Fair Pay for Women Act. With it, employers can’t pay male and female workers different wages for the same work. That means if someone wants to file a gender-based discrimination complaint, she can do it in state court instead of taking it to a federal court, which often poses travel challenges. The new law also prevents retaliation against employees who file a claim.

This list isn’t comprehensive. Nerd out on every measure in the session and discover what happened at bit.ly/Roundhouse2013.

*This article originally appeared on Page 5 of Local iQ.

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