Legislative session in final weeks, bills moving

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This year's legislative session is in the final stretch and some legislators are using one word to describe how they are feeling after the last month and a half at the Roundhouse — tired.

Both in their freshman sessions, Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D-30, Grants) and Rep. Stephen Easley (D-50, Santa Fe) say the session so far has been busy and exciting as they serve on their appointed committees and shepherd legislation through in the hopes it will hit the governor's desk eventually.

"There's a lot of work to do," Sanchez said. "The main thing we are here to do is get the budget done." The budget came out of the House and is now in the Senate for further review and tweaks before it goes on to the governor, Sanchez said.

"We are going through House Bill 2 now," he said. "I'm a numbers guy so for me the budget is always interesting."

Sanchez said the minimum wage bill was moving forward and the bill to tap the state's permanent fund to support additional early childhood education had made it through the first round of committee hearings and moved on to the finance committee.

When the minimum wage bill came through his committee, Sanchez said he didn't offer a lot of changes or recommendations on the bill before it was voted on.

"I thought that was something that should be heard by the whole floor and not a decision to be made by 10 people," he said.

Easley said he was disappointed to see a bill he sponsored on assault weapon restrictions die early in committee, saying it could have "made a very reasonable bill."

He is carrying another gun-related bill, House Bill 77, that is working its way through the Senate.

The bill would close the loophole that allows gun sales at gun shows without background checks.

"We worked on it a lot. It was a compromise bill and had bipartisan support in the House," Easley said. "There is strong public support to close that loophole. I think it would be in everybody's best interest."

The fair pay for women act also passed the House on a bipartisan, unanimous vote, something Easley called "very impressive. We passed a lot of things unanimously, but they were on a pretty small scale."

Another piece of legislation Eaelsy is hoping will make it to the governor's desk is House Bill 171, a tele-medince bill.

"Everybody should be excited about this bill," he said. The bill would allow physicians to be paid for health consultations with patients conducted via web cameras.

"We have so many under served counties in terms of availability of medical services," he said. "If you live in a rural area, it's a real imposition to go to Albuquerque to see a doctor."

Currently private insurance won't pay for tele-medicine at all, Easely said.

"The doctors want to do this, but they also want to get paid," he said. "What this bill does is arranges to have that private insurance have to cover tele-medicine the same way it covers a face-to-face encounter.

"This is not cutting edge. People are doing this elsewhere. We are trying to get the insurance companies to see this as the preventative care they are always talking about. Without good accessibility people are less likely to come in and wait until the are gravely ill, staggering into an emergency room."

Easley is also carrying House Bill 493, which would designate the Geo-spacial Center at the University of New Mexico the official repository for all geo-spacial data for the state.

"There is an enormous amount of GIS data — plats for homes, street lights, sewer. Our entire system is being mapped," he said. The bill would compile the information into a central database that would be available to the public.

And Easley's House Bill 494 would require utility owners to be more responsive to 811 "call before you dig" requests for marking underground utilities.

"People call but there is no requirement that the utility owners notify them back that the work has been done," he said. "This bill would require owners of facilities to do the work within 48 hours and affirmatively respond that it has been completed. People end up digging, not knowing if there is something there or having to call each individually and waiting for them to come out and mark."

Easley, like most other legislators, has put in for capital outlay requests for his district. The requests go to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which decides which of the projects it will accept, and those are bundled into the capital outlay bill.

That bill will go to the Senate, where further adjustments are made.

Once the bill gets passed by both houses, it goes to the governor.

"She has line-item veto authority, which allows her to veto as many individual projects as she wishes. If we get the bill to her in time, it is possible for the legislature to override her vetoes with a two-thirds majority, but that is unlikely," Easley said. "So, in the end the governor gets to pretty much decide what is approved.

"She has shown no reluctance in the past to veto projects. Just because the projects are on my list does not mean they will ultimately get funded."


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