Legislators reflect on 30-day session

........................................................................................................................................................................................

As the 30-day legislative session came to a close last Thursday, it did so with only 73 bills making it through for consideration by the governor.

According to Sen. Michael Sanchez, (D-29), of Belen, that was the fewest since 1972.

"I suspect that was because the House filibustered," Sanchez said. "There were a lot of Senate bills that didn't get heard because of the filibuster."

But one very important thing that did get passed in both chambers was the state's $5.6 million budget, he said.

"We also have 9 percent in reserves, which is really good," he said.

Sanchez said he was "very disappointed" that his fair mortgage bill didn't pass. He took the bill to the floor, but there weren't enough votes, so Sanchez said he pulled it back, in the hopes of getting the support. But in the end it did not.

The bill passed in the Senate last year, but was killed in the House judiciary, Sanchez said.

"Not having this is going to hurt a lot of people in Valencia County, because we have such a high foreclosure rate, and around the state," he said. "It's coming back next year."

Sanchez said the larger banks entered the fray and convinced the smaller, local banks that the bill would adversely effect them.

"It didn't. They were scare and fear tactics," he said. "They, well, I'll just say it — they misled them. That's what people do to get bills killed."

Sanchez said he was also very disappointed that the attempt to use more of the state's permanent fund for pre-K through third-grade programs failed.

"Again, we have a group of people who feel that we should not dip into the permanent fund, that it should be there for future generations," he said. "I tried to explain that the person affected by not using these funds could be the next Bill Gates or the next doctor to come to Valencia County. By not even trying, we are letting them down."

Another bill that failed to make it to the fourth floor was Senate Bill 219. Sanchez said the legislation would have provided much-needed funding to small, public airports around the state, such as the Belen Municipal Alexander Airport.

"There was a filibuster by Rep. (Dennis) Roch, and Mr. Roch and those Republicans don't know what a disservice they did to these small communities," Sanchez said. "It's really too bad. It would have helped Belen and the community."

And despite claims that he was attempting to delay or kill three joint resolutions concerning the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, Sanchez points out that all three passed out of the Senate and will now be put on the November ballot.

"If I wanted to, they could have been at the end of the list," he said. "I think in the end, these changes are going to cost us more money. When it happens, they are going to come to the state asking for additional revenues."

Sanchez said there was very little debate in the Senate on the resolutions.

Sanchez said other important bills that made it onto the governor's desk include:

• A veteran exemption tax credit that grants employers a $1,000 credit for each veteran they hire;

• The conversion of the state's kindergarten to third-grade pilot program into a permanent one;

• Removing the requirement that absentee ballots cast in Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District elections be notarized;

• A much-needed judgeship being established in the 13th Judicial District;

• Reauthorization of capital outlay funds for unfinished projects;

• House Bill 2, which included an additional $150,000 in operating funds for the substance abuse treatment center in Los Lunas, $200,000 for the Fred Luna Senior Center in Los Lunas;

• $5 million severance tax funds for the second phase — a dorm for women and children — of the substance abuse treatment center in Los Lunas, $250,000 for the Peralta/Bosque Farms wastewater system, $150,000 for the Valencia County Animal Shelter and $192,000 for an assisted living facility in Isleta;

• $1 million from general obligation bonds for critical infrastructure needs at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

"These project are very important, and while the governor has the right to veto any of them, I will be very disappointed, in more ways than one," Sanchez said. "She calls them pork, we call them initiative for community development."

And just hours after the session, local attorney and State Rep. David Chavez was back in his office, handling cases.

"I was very pleased that we were able to deliver a budget within our means," said Chavez, (R-7), of Los Lunas. "It passed the House 70-0. It was a bipartisan budget."

One big disappointment of the session was the failure of the governor's education bill, Chavez said.

"We spent endless hours in committee, got a version that was agreeable to both parties and it died in the Senate," he said. "It was so frustrating to work so hard and get that close, just to see it fail."

On the combined reporting bill, Chavez said he would have liked to see his fellow lawmakers take bigger, bolder steps.

"It lowered it from what, 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent. It should have been around 6.5, but they wanted to take baby steps, test the waters," he said. "We have to change to be competitive. We just over tax."

Chavez said he supported the repeal of the bill that allows illegal immigrants to obtain a New Mexico driver's license. He said the majority of his constituents support the repeal as well, but they also wanted a solution.

"They wanted it repealed — period. But we have two separate issues," Chavez said. "One is repealing it and the other is what is the solution? This is a federal issue that isn't being addressed."

During the session, Chavez said he met with many local municipal leaders to find out what their capital outlay needs were.

"An interchange and bridge are critical and needed," he said. "There are concerns in Los Lunas about their sewer and water infrastructure. And Peralta is working with Bosque Farms to establish a wastewater system."

Chavez said in the future, as capital outlay funds dwindle, municipalities and other entities are going to have to start getting creative about where they seek funding.

"We met with the environment department and DFA. We need to look for funding from every source," he said. "We have to explore all options for funding. It's just not from capital outlay anymore."

And Chavez said he received assistance from other legislators in securing capital outlay funds for local projects, specifically Rep. Henry Kiki Saavedra, (D-10), of Albuquerque, and Sen. David Ulibarri, (D-30), of Grants.

"Kiki helped with extra funding for the vehicles for the sheriff's department and David helped with the Bosque Farms library," he said. "I really want to thank both of them for that."

Chavez said he was also very pleased to have been able to get $3 million on the upcoming general obligation bonds for UNM-VC.

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, (R-8), of Los Lunas, said he was also disappointed by the failure of the education reform bills.

"We got as close as we possibly could without passing them," Baldonado said. "Both crossed over to the other chamber, the reading and teacher evaluation bills. It was a disappointment that they didn't pass.

"This was for our kids. We had an opportunity to make some good progress but instead settled for the status quo."

Baldonado was also disappointed that changes to last year's bill for Union Pacific Railway didn't make it to the governor's desk. The original bill called for $100 million in capital improvements and specified the construction of a refueling facility, he said.

"BNSF already has one of the largest refueling stations in the nation, right in our backyard. They don't need another one," he said. "We cannot pass laws that are specific to one group, county or town. This bill is as close as you can get to that, the way it is written.

"Yes, it gives Union Pacific a break for building a refueling depot, but what does it do for the guy who already has one?"

Baldonado said the bill, which did not change the language from the previous legislation and just added another set of criteria to qualify for the tax credit, got all the way to the point that it could have been taken to the Senate floor for a vote.

"I'm sure we will see another next year," he said.

Baldonado said he was excited to see the three PRC bills go to the voters.

"I think they will all do a lot of good things for the PRC. We have a lot of smart folks in New Mexico, but for certain positions you need knowledge in certain areas," he said.

An open-meetings reform bill that failed to reach the Senate floor was a disappointment to a state transparency organization, New Mexico Foundation fro Open Government.

The bill, which would have mandated that public meeting agendas be available to the public 72 hours in advance, instead of the current 24 hours, reached the Senate calendar 24 hours before the end of the session. This was the second year the bill was introduced.

FOG Executive Director Sarah Welsh said Senate Majority Leader Sanchez adjourned without calling the bill up for a vote.

Sanchez said there were a lot of bills on the calendar and no one bill was debated any longer than any other.

"I suspect it will come back next year," he said. "We try to do as many as we can. Last year, we had the filibuster on capital outlay."

Both Chavez and Baldonado said they voted in favor of the bill when it came through the House.

"The intent was for more openness in government, to give people more notice," said Chavez. "It was an attempt to make government more responsible."

Baldonado said the debate he heard on the floor voiced concerns that the bill would be burdensome to government bodies.

"This wasn't written for the boards and commissions," he said. "This is about having more transparency and information available to people."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.