A Bad Bill Becomes a Good Bill with Constituent Pressure and Tenacious Advocacy. Join Us at 9am Today for the Vote

It was pretty crazy. PNM’s SB 47 is dead slain as much by PNM’s own hubris as by strong, persistent progressive advocacy in opposition. PNM II (HB 325), as it was called by several legislators and advocates, had been introduced by Rep. Montoya, R, Farmington. What unfolded was absolutely stunning. Come today at 9, Room 303 for the final chapter.

Roundhouse Round Up

First, HB 325 was never a bad idea. It was just a well intentioned idea that as originally written was not a good bill. The intent of HB 325 was to force the PRC to incorporate in its negotiations with PNM, the economic impact of the anticipated closing of San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Generating Station, a very good idea. But as originally written the bill had flaws outlined in previous posts. Rep. Montoya is not known as a progressive advocate for the environment, but more as a staunch advocate for a community that has been economically dependent to a frightening degree upon the extractive industry. A week ago, the thinking among most environmental advocacy groups was that this bill needed to be killed in the Judicial Committee. But it was also clear that Speaker Egolf and Rep. Montoya were committed to getting something done. We were not optimistic that the result would be a good one. And then yesterday, everything got crazy.

You couldn’t make this up. First, Retake, New Energy Economy, Sierra Club and other advocates packed Room 309 expecting HB 325 to be among the first bills called as it had been “put forward” from Saturday without being heard. But we sat through over 3 hours of discussion focused on other bills waiting patiently for HB 325. As I noted previously, House Judicial Committee operates in a very collegial, collaborative, respectful, and bi-partisan fashion. There are disagreements, but there is also a clear foundation of respect that permeates the room. I didn’t mind at all waiting for SB 325. You learn more and more about the players in the Roundhouse with every hearing: the lobbyists, the representatives become real people engaged in real strategic work. It is fascinating as each day you begin to understand more of what is going on and how better to influence things.

New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi sitting a row ahead of me texted me that while negotiations over the past few days had improved the bill significantly, it still had flaws and that she and two NEE attorneys had cobbled together amendments that would address those flaws. Sierra Club and NEE were prepared to oppose the bill if the amendments were not made and Retake was taking our cues from them. Rep. McQueen and I exchanged texts trying to figure out if the “redlined” (i.e. amended) bill he was reviewing was the same that I had that included New Energy Economy’s proposed amendments, eventually realizing that we had the same version. But things seemed very fluid, as it was obvious that some back room negotiations were transpiring as Speaker Egolf and Rep. Montoya kept exiting and re-entering the hearing.  While the buzz was exciting, I have gotten used to losing in situations like this and was skeptical and also worried that it was getting late.  About 5pm, Rep. Montoya emerged from behind the committee panel with a wide grin and gave me a big thumbs up, just as Rep. McQueen texted me to tell me that Rep. Montoya had yet another amended bill. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect until Mariel signaled me to go outside. Not only had Rep. Montoya adopted all of NEE’s recommended changes, when done with negotiations, Rep. Montoya shook Mariel’s hand and thanked her.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

It got better. Chair Casey indicated that we were out of time to do a full discussion and vote especially due to ‘new developments.’ She invited Rep. Montoya to brief the committee. And brief them he did. He began by saying that when done, his constituents would be branding him an environmental advocate. The committee and crowd laughed, as this would not be his reputation. He went on to thank New Energy Economy several times and detailed the importance of each of the specific changes that resulted from NEE’s input and amendments. He indicated that he embraced all of them and that he and Bruce Throne, the NEE attorney, would meet immediately after the hearing to prepare the final bill language, incorporating all of the NEE amendments. The Chair then asked if there were comments from the audience and one after another praised the inclusive and participatory process and the resulting bill, with different speakers taking on different aspects of the new HB 325. In my testimony, I noted that with leadership from Speaker Egolf and from Rep. Montoya and with a participatory process, a very bad bill had emerged as a good bill worthy of support. A PNM Lobbyist spoke next saying that PNM had no position on the current amended bill as it had not been part of the negotiations over the past few days. But they said, they took exception to my comment about a bad bill becoming a good one, stating that they had worked for weeks to produce first SB 47, which they characterized as a  good bill and that that bill was now dead. The lobbyist stated that he would have to look at this bill tonight. FYI: SB 47 was NEVER anything but a PNM bailout and a horrible bill.  Then PRC Commissioner Patrick Lyons, sitting directly behind Mariel Nanasi, stood to announce his full support of the bill as amended. You have to realize this is likely the only time Mariel, Commissioner Lyons and I have been on the same side on ANYTHING and the three of us enjoyed shaking hands with wide grins.

I spoke with Rep. Montoya after the hearing and told him that Retake would be a fierce advocate for dedicated resources to support a just transition in San Juan and Four Corners. He was most appreciative and smiled about how unlikely the outcome had been and how pleased he was with the process and the result. As nice as it was to see the evolution of a bad bill into a good one, I think the most important result from this process might be the emerging sense of respect and trust between a conservative GOP legislative leader (Montoya is the House Minority Whip) and environmental advocates. There seemed to be a realization that as relates to ensure a just transition for the impacted communities of Farmington and Four Corners, environmental advocates and all the representatives from these communities could profit from working together. This could be a remarkable alliance and one that could be very difficult for PNM to reckon with.

In the end, the process also produced a vastly improved HB 325 that I expect will pass out of the Judicial Committee at 9am this morning and then go on to the House floor. That is a very good result and manifests precisely what we hope results often in 2019. For a year, our Roundhouse Advocacy Team has been meeting every other week to develop Retake Our Democracy’s 2018-2019 Election and Legislative Strategy. We continue to meet on the second and fourth Thursday of every month to continue to expand and refine that strategy and to build a robust statewide Rapid Response Network comprised of informed, organized constituents in every district in the state. To review that strategy, please click here. We will be launching this initiative at our March 4 Town Hall from 2-4pm at the Center for Progress & Justice, click here for details and to RSVP.

Legislative Priorities Survey. A key part of that strategy is the dissemination of our Speak Up New Mexico! Legislative Priorities Online Survey. Currently, we have survey responses from all but 2-3 Senate Districts and from all but 5 House Districts. As we work through the Democratic Party, State Democratic Party County Chairs, faith labor and advocacy organizations to expand promotion of the survey we anticipate obtaining input from thousands of New Mexicans from every region in the state. The results will be a valuable lobbying tool and with over half of the respondents to date wanting to be part of a Rapid Response Network, we will be able to initiate highly targeted constituent lobbying with key legislators at strategic moments to advance our bills and other progressive legislation. So if you have not yet taken the survey, please do. Click here to take the survey.  It only takes about 10 minutes. And when done, please share it with 4-5 friends, especially with folks you may know in other parts of the state. We are in this for the long haul and we are learning an enormous amount in the 2018 session. Our time is coming. Please join in.

To join the Roundhouse Advocacy Team simply send me an email at paul@RetakeOurDemocracy.org and we will add you to the list.  Over the next year, we will be working with our progressive allies (Common Cause, ACLU, NM Voices for Children, Somos Un Puebleo Unido and over two dozen others) to develop the Response Network and to hone communication strategies with our allies to ensure seamless and timely advocacy informs the legislative process in 2019. Yesterday in the Judicial Committee is exactly what we want to happen next year, a powerful highly paid corporate lobbyist wondering what happened while a bunch of volunteer advocates celebrate in the hall. It was quite a high.

And today, there is more:

Tuesday, Feb 13, 9am Room 307 Judicial Committee Hearing of HB 325, PUBLIC PEACE, HEALTH, SAFETY & WELFARE PUBLIC UTILITY FACILITY ABANDONMENT Come see how the last few days all plays out. Unless something very unexpected transpires, this looks like a big win, the transformation of a bad bill we opposed and that could have passed, into a good bill that looks almost certain to pass. I’d say come early, put your coat in Room 303 to save a seat and then come to Room 307 to hear the results. Chair Casey stated that she expected this to be a very brief hearing.

Tuesday, Feb 13, 9am Room 303. SM43 Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee, . Chaco Canyon Landscape Preservation. The bill has passed out of Committees in the House and now needs approval in this key committee, a committee with only  a 3-2 Democratic Majority. Strongly encourage you attend. This is by no means a done deal so a big showing could make a difference.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

 

2 thoughts on “A Bad Bill Becomes a Good Bill with Constituent Pressure and Tenacious Advocacy. Join Us at 9am Today for the Vote

  1. Paul, the following email from the local chapter of the Sierra Club came late in the afternoon today and I don’t know how to reconcile it with what you are saying:

    HB 325, a bill that does some good things for San Juan County and more bad things for humanity, will get a vote on the House floor tonight after it passed House Judiciary Committee today.

    Can you please call and/or email your own representative AND senator NOW to ask them to vote “no” on HB 325 this evening?

    Find contact info here (if two numbers are available, call the office number). Thanks to all who have already called (time to switch targets and call your own rep)!

    Some background:

    HB325, sponsored by Farmington Rep. Rod Montoya, aims to protect San Juan County from the economic impacts of PNM retiring coal-fired San Juan Generating Station — that’s great. But the bill also makes it harder to close the polluting plant — and allows another owner to continue burning coal at San Juan if PNM does abandon it.

    — HB 325 requires the Public Regulation Commission to consider the property-tax impact on San Juan County in its decision on whether PNM should keep the San Juan plant running. So even though continued operation of this aging coal plant is worse for ratepayers and deadly for the climate, this bill would put a thumb on the scale for keeping it running.

    — HB 325 doesn’t specify that the San Juan plant must stop burning coal — just that PNM abandons it — in order for the benefits to the county to kick in. So another owner could swoop in and keep the plant polluting for decades.

    — The bill guarantees all replacement energy be sited in San Juan County but would allow 100% of that power to be fossil fuels. If we’re going to set requirements on the power that PNM will use to replace San Juan coal, it is critical to use that opportunity to prioritize renewable energy. An amendment added in the Judiciary Committee requires “environmental minimization” of any replacement resources, but that language does nothing to prevent the replacement resource from being a gas plant.

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