This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
How about 45 days instead of 30? For years, some lawmakers have argued 30-day legislative sessions — which alternate with 60-day sessions — don’t give lawmakers enough time to get the job done. Legislation that would expand those 30-day sessions to 45 days passed through the House of Representatives on a 45-21 vote late Monday night. House Joint Resolution 13 extends from 30 days to 45 the length of sessions during even-numbered years. Odd-numbered years would remain at their current length of 60 days.
The bill also would do away with current restrictions limiting even-numbered year legislation to bills related to the state’s operating budget, legislation requested by the governor and those vetoed by the governor the previous year. It also changes the effective date for legislation, usually set at 90 days after the Legislature ends, to 75 days after that date.
The resolution is a constitutional amendment, and should the Senate approve it, the measure would go to voters in the 2022 general election. As such, it does not require a signature from the governor.
A big hand: Members of the Senate erupted in applause after freshman Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, successfully lobbied for passage of House Bill 250 Tuesday. The legislation requires all employees in nursing facilities, intermediate care centers, and other adult residential care outlets to undergo training to detect early signs of dementia in patients. The House of Representatives had already voted to support the measure. On Tuesday, the Senate approved on a 31-0 vote after minimal debate.
A 2018 National Conference on State Legislatures report said 61 percent of all nursing home patients around the country suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. In residential care units, that figure is 42 percent, according to the report. Serrato’s bill has to bounce back to the House of Representatives for a concurrence vote, and then it’s on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature.
New Mexico budget: The Senate Finance Committee endorsed an amended $7.4 billion spending plan for the state on a 6-4 vote Tuesday and moved the proposed budget to the Senate floor. The proposal represents a 4.8 percent increase in spending, or $373 million, over the current fiscal year. The four Republican members of the committee cast the opposing votes on House Bill 2, which appropriates money for the operation of state government for the 2022 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said in a statement she appreciated the new committee chairman’s approach in building the budget, especially the influence individual legislators were given in allocating junior and capital outlay funds within their districts. “However, I have serious concerns about increasing New Mexico’s budget and growing state government in the wake of a pandemic,” she said. “Eventually, the influx of federal COVID relief dollars will cease. Without responsible spending and saving, we could be facing record deficits in the very near future.”
Amendments approved by the committee would direct $1.63 billion of potential payments from the American Rescue Plan to the general fund. Another amendment also would add $41 million to the proposed budget, mostly for a 1 percent employer contribution increase to New Mexico’s teacher pension fund as proposed under Senate Bill 42.
Quote of the day: “Stop muting me. I respectfully ask everyone else to mute themselves. It’s not so hard.” — Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, during Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee. Even on day 56 of the session, lawmakers were still fumbling with their mute buttons during virtual sessions.
Quote of the day, Part II: “I don’t think he owns a truck. Every time he needs to move anything, he calls me.” — Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, about Rep. Jason Harper, R-Albuquerque, during a Senate floor debate on House Bill 271. That legislation would direct all revenue from state fees imposed by the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act to the state motor transportation fee fund, which goes into the state road fund. The discussion prompted Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, to wonder aloud if Harper drives a truck. The Senate approved the bill.