A tale of two bills: some bright spots from the legislative session

Like most legislators, I am not proud of the fact that we were unable to finalize the budget during the 30-day session. Our budget is top priority and I am confident that we will be able to balance it during the upcoming special session.

However, the 30-day session was not a complete loss. There were some important issues that I am grateful we did address. Our state faces an urgent need for restructure in the areas of “double dipping,” investment funds, education, domestic violence, stalled capital outlay, incentive accountability, reservation infrastructure and ethics reform. Thankfully, bills were successfully passed that addressed many of these crucial topics.

Two issues I happened to work on, State Investment Council reform – Senate Bill 18 – and economic development incentive accountability – Senate Bill 47 – would not have been possible without bipartisan collaborative efforts between both legislative chambers and the executive branch. In the current context in which cynicism tends to be the norm, these two bills are a testament to how government can come together and effectively work for New Mexicans.

Reflecting on these bills is like a tale of two journeys: one from a Government 101 text book and the other from a sausage-making cookbook. Both bills were interim committee bills that were crafted over the course of the fall and deliberated in multiple venues. The interim committee process is often overlooked in our state. These committees play an important role by providing an avenue for staff, agencies, media, legislators and advocates to iterate bill drafts, and to find the right solutions, without being under intense time pressure.

Both bills were pre-filed in early January, which gave time for agencies to draft analyses and allowed for advanced public review. Messages supporting consideration of both of these bills were also received from the governor. In a 30-day session, a message from the governor is required to make any non-budget bill germane – relevant and appropriate for the session.

A very different path
Each bill, however, took a very different path once the session started. Legislators and advocates felt very comfortable with the incentive accountability policies in SB47 and had consensus around its need. The two-page bill moved through committees with relative ease, was never amended, and passed each stage without a single negative vote. It was a right idea at the right time and legislators efficiently passed it on its way.

On the other hand, SB18, concerning investment fund reform, was an exercise in real-time policymaking. The complex, 60-page bill was substituted twice in each Senate committee, was combined with two other bills in the Senate, had six pages of amendments in the House and then finally went back to the Senate for final concurrence.

SB18 also passed each stage of the process unanimously, yet each step along the way it was improved, enhanced, streamlined and balanced out, which was reflected in its final official title: “senate finance committee substitute for senate rules committee substitute for SB18, 218, 238 – Keller, Neville, McSorely/Heaton/ as amended in House Tax and Revenue Committee with an emergency clause.”

The result was urgently needed, comprehensive legislation that passed with less than an hour left in the session.

Complex issues
The process of SB18 is a representation of how the system can effectively work on complex issues. This bill is a prime example of how individuals can spend hours working on a piece of complex legislation to get it right and how the system can respond to the public’s will in order to resolve problems.

On the other hand, the process of SB47 speaks to how basic ideas are moved along without partisan or personal political hang ups. Both bills are reflections of effective committee and floor leadership in which both chambers were able to productively reach this session’s deadline.

While there is a lot of deserved frustration regarding the budget, I hope that these examples at least provide a thread of optimism, and some proof points that our government may work in mysterious ways and can be effective. For Senate bills 18 and 47, it is now up to our governor to complete the process by hopefully signing both bills.

For the budget, it is up to the Legislature to complete the task we started in the 30-day session.

Keller is a Democratic state senator representing District 17 - East Central Albuquerque and the International District.

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Comment by shotsie on February 26, 2010 at 8:06am
Thanks for your insight into the legislative process - it's truly an art to passing significant legislation that takes years of dealing with all different types of personalities. Hats off to those who make it happen!


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