News from the Session: 2011 Legislative Update


The 2011 legislative session ended with a flurry of last minute action.

Here are some highlights and a behind the scenes story of the legislative process at its best.

The Budget

Passing a balanced budget that would be fair to hard working New Mexican's was my number one priority for this legislative session.After cutting $800 million over the last three years, I entered the session hoping multi-state corporations and our wealthiest citizens would contribute to the budget solution. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

The 2012 budget is balanced but flawed. The corporate loophole I have fought to close for the last seven years remains open, even though this year's proposal actually lowered the corporate tax rate for all New Mexico businesses that pay this tax. The film credit is capped at fifty million dollars, an action which saves money in the short run but could cost thousands of New Mexico jobs. New Mexicans who benefited most from the 2003 income tax cuts are still not asked to contribute. Instead, once again, it's teachers, state employees and our children who take the brunt of the cuts.

Given this unfairness, I ended up voting against the budget, against teacher and state employee pay cuts and against the film "compromise." While making government more efficient and effective should always be our goal, in future years we must look at the revenue side of our budget to insure essential services are maintained.

Bills on the Governor's Desk

Six of the nineteen bills I introduced passed both chambers and await signature by Governor Martinez.

Bullet Point Prevent New Condominiums from Skirting Zoning Laws (SB 8): Allows local governments to require new condominiums to comply with zoning density.

Bullet Point Update Youth Driver's License Requirements (SB 9): Bans youth drivers on permit and provisional licenses from texting or using cell phones and tightens up our graduated license system.

Bullet Point Pet Dogs on Restaurant Patios (SB 11): Gives restaurants the option of allowing dogs on outdoor patios. Seen by many restaurants as a way to increase business in these tough economic times.

Bullet Point Dental Amalgam Separators (SB 12): Requires dentists to install separators so mercury fillings do not go into our water supply.

Bullet Point Give Bikes Five Feet (SB 124): Permits cars to cross center line to ensure there are at least five feet between the car and the bike.

Bullet Point Energy Conservation Bonds (SB 266): Allocates 20 million dollars in federal stimulus money for renewable energy projects. Santa Fe County will be able to use its portion of these funds to implement a commercial renewable energy financing district based on legislation I carried in 2009.

Key Bills that did not Pass this Session:

Bullet Point Require Combined Reporting and Lower Corporate Taxes (SB 6): A "win-win" for New Mexico businesses that pay corporate tax. This bill lowers the tax rate and made all multi-state companies pay their fair share. Died in Senate Corporations Committee.

Bullet Point Money in Politics (SB 547): Requires "independent expenditure committees" to disclose donors. This bill is critical following the United States Supreme Court's misguided decision in Citizens United which gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing campaigns. Passed the Senate and House Committees but died on the House floor for lack of time.

Behind the Scenes Action

After seven years of legislative service, I find it's often not the bills which pass that are the highlight of a session, but votes taken, deals brokered and bills stopped which are the things I remember. Here is an example.

House Bill 81 came to Senate Judiciary from the Land Grant Interim Committee. The legislation sought to clarify that land grant common areas were not state lands subject to cultural property designations. Native American pueblos and tribes opposed the legislation arguing they needed to be able to protect their sacred sites on these land grants.

As the bill was presented that afternoon, the history and tension in the room was palpable. Committee members were being asked to make an impossible choice between two constituencies who have lived together for more than five hundred years but now were at complete odds.

Walking into the committee meeting, a pueblo member handed me the outline of an amendment to clarify that tribal sacred sites were protected by federal law and that land grants and tribes could enter into memorandums of understanding to protect these sites. I asked questions of both sides during the hearing to see if there was any possibility of compromise. Despite resistance, the parties agreed to hold the bill over until our next meeting and try one last time to work out their difference.

After two days of negotiation, an agreement was reached and the vote for the amended legislation at our next meeting was unanimous. The sometimes frustrating slow pace of the legislative process in this case worked. As I watched the land grant heirs and tribal members shake hands and walk out of that committee room together, it reaffirmed for me why I serve.

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