Legislators ready to tackle upcoming bills

Kevin Wilson

New legislators for eastern New Mexico report a steep learning curve in their first state legislative session.

But, as sessions go, this year’s 60-day affair is the best one to learn from, as budget woes mean there’s little extraneous legislation coming.

“All sessions are defined by how many dollars there are and where the appropriations are going to go,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. “We don’t have any. There’s agreement on both sides. We’ve got a lean budget and there are some cuts we’re going to have to make.”

However, old and new legislators alike have plenty of bills coming up as the midway point is upon the Legislature.

Rep. George Dodge, D-Santa Rosa, has five bills coming up, including one to remove military members killed or missing in action from lists for jury duty.

“Everybody asks me (about the legislation),” Dodge said. “They didn’t realize that was happening, (but it’s happening) a lot more often than we think.”

There is a bill in the works to put a moratorium on construction projects at universities and two-year colleges. Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said the bill is intended to save on one-time construction costs and recurring operating expenses.

“That has been a bit controversial,” Kernan said. “The universities and two-year schools are concerned.”

Kernan said she is working on legislation that would exempt workforce training and replacement of unsafe facilities.

Ingle, meanwhile, is taking up a bill for the state lottery scholarship that would require, “the tuition rate in effect when a student first qualifies for a lottery tuition scholarship shall remain in effect during the remainder of the semesters in which the student receives a lottery tuition scholarship.”

Ingle said the bill gets killed every year, but it has a chance this time around.

One of the biggest issues is inactivity, Republican members said.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, had a bill that would undo environmental changes made in the final months of Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration — including statewide greenhouse gas emissions standards and participation a regional cap and trade program.

The Senate Judiciary Committee tabled that bill in a 7-4 vote.

“We feel like maybe (that legislation) needs to be heard by a larger group of legislators,” Kernan said.

Meanwhile, Dodge, the only freshman Democrat in the House, said he’s getting used to the “hurry up and wait” schedule.

“You hurry up and get to the committee meeting on time, and the meeting’s starting late,” Dodge said. “But people are (still) in other committees listening to bills, or they’re in other committees presenting bills.”

The Legislature still has to tackle a $400 million deficit, but Harden said work in that avenue has been going faster than he expected, and he doubts a special session will be required.

“I’m confident we’ll get the business of the state done,” Harden said. “I think there’s a move to cooperate.”

The area’s other new representative, Republican Bob Wooley of Roswell, said he’s been overwhelmed by the process, and the notion that a little more than 100 people are making decisions for two million New Mexicans.

He was appointed days before the Legislature convened as the replacement for Keith Gardner, who became Gov. Susana Martinez’ chief of staff.

“My main objective is to look at all of the bills and look at how it’s going to best affect the state of New Mexico,” Wooley said. “I’m not going to be one that’s strictly party line if it’s good for the state. If I can’t explain the way I voted to the constituents, then I’ve got a problem.”