House panel derails veto override

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday saved Gov. Bill Richardson the embarrassment of a veto override.

The committee tabled a bill that Richardson had vetoed last year — a veto that the Senate recently voted overwhelmingly to override.

The bill would have forced state agencies to provide the Legislative Finance Committee with confidential information about contracts and programs. The measure last year had unanimously passed both chambers of the Legislature before Richardson rejected it.

The House committee vote to scuttle the override of Senate Bill 531 was 7-4, with all Democrats voting in favor of the move and all Republicans opposed.

When the Senate voted for an override, the outcome was 34-8, with a large majority of Senate Democrats and all Republican senators voting to override.

The bill stemmed from last year’s refusal by Pam Hyde, then secretary of the Human Services Department, to comply with a Legislative Finance Committee request for information about Medicaid, including costs by managed-care companies that administer health-care services in New Mexico through state contracts. The federally subsidized Medicaid program provides health care to the poor and uninsured children.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, would require state agencies to provide the Legislative Finance Committee with confidential material, which the committee would not be allowed to make public.

On Wednesday, Katie Falls, the newly confirmed Secretary of the Human Services Department, told the House committee that the decision to withhold the information was Hyde’s.

Falls said she had no problem providing the requested information and already had talked to LFC director David Abbey about it.

“I’m in full agreement the LFC should have this information,” she said.

Republicans on the committee commended Falls for that decision. But Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, said, “This bill’s not just about your agency. …This bill could be needed in the future.”

Falls said she would be happy to testify in support of future legislation like SB531 next year.

Richardson’s legislative liaison, Eric Witt, said the governor would be happy with the Wednesday’s vote.

The governor’s veto of SB531 is one of two that the Senate last week voted to override.

The other is SB460, also from last year’s session. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, would change the membership makeup of the State Investment Council, giving the Legislature more influence and the governor less. That bill is waiting to be heard in the House Taxation & Revenue Committee. Similar bills are also pending in the Legislature.