There Must Be a Better Way to Run a Legislative Process

Meaningless committee schedules, endless memorials, repetitive limitless debates, announcement of “honored guests” and appointment hearings impede meaningful deliberation, leaving good bills to die from neglect.

Today’s post is coming out late because the last few days at the Roundhouse have been so crazy and then Roxanne and I took an evening off to celebrate Valentine’s Day. So, you are getting this in the middle of the radio show, which is unfortunate as the interview described below is so important. But fortunately, it will be available on podcast on Monday. And apologies for typos today. I need to get this out now and Roxanne hasn’t had time to review it, as is our usual practice. But we have to get to the County Democratic Party Convention and then to the Roundhouse. So much for a respite. ;-). Thursday at noon (end of session), can’t get here soon enough.

Roundhouse Roundup. Just one brief note. Community Solar died on the House Floor with a dozen Democrats voting no. I was going to publish all the names and contact info for these legislators, but decided that first I would talk with a number of them to see if perhaps there could be a good reason for their votes. I think that some legislators saw this coming as HM 63 Study Group for Community Solar is being heard this morning at 9am in Senate Conservation. The bill calls for stakeholders to convene and work together to develop a viable community solar that enjoys support from cooperatives, tribes, environmental advocates and other stakeholders. Stay tuned.

Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, Saturday 8:30am– 9 am. TODAY, I interviewed Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst at Oil Change International, the author of Drilling to Disaster. Drilling to Disaster examines the nation’s contribution to the climate crisis with an emphasis upon emissions from the gas and oil industry. The report focuses on how the Permian Basin contributes almost 40% of the nation’s total emissions. OCI followed up Drilling to Disaster, with a report focused entirely on NM and how our production of gas and oil undermines the goals of the Governor’s Climate Plan.

On February 8, we had Dahr Jamail on the show. Dahr is an international respected climate change author and I think this show was perhaps the most important and most compelling of all the shows over the past 3 years. On Feb 1, we had Representatives Abbas Akhil and Melanie Stansbury on the show and we discussed the large number of good environmental protection and climate change bills introduced this session.

You can access any of our podcasts by clicking here.

Could the Roundhouse Operate More Efficiently?

I want to preface today’s remarks with an important acknowledgment: legislators and legislative staff work tirelessly throughout the session, especially in the last two weeks. Often House floor sessions extend to midnight and now hearings are being held on Saturday and likely Sunday. It is an exhausting process. But today, we focus on some areas in which the legislative process is stalled by practices that perhaps could be handled differently. I suspect the House would still meet til midnight, but perhaps if some of what is described below were handled differently, they would be passing more bills rather than honoring puppies and green chile.

It isn’t as if the Legislature doesn’t have important business to conduct, but even in its last week, the purpose of the legislature: to pass and fund important bills, is compromised by an array of trivialities, symbolic gestures, sanctified traditions, and business that ought to be conducted in other ways. Here are just a small sampling of time wasting from just yesterday:

Meaningless Committee Schedules. Committee start times depend upon when the Senate and House floor sessions adjourn. Especially as we near the end of a session, those floor sessions can extend well past the announced times for committee hearings. Advocates sit in the halls for hours waiting for hearings to begin. This scheduling practice wastes enormous amounts of time of advocates and discourage citizen advocacy, as unpaid advocates arrive for hearings at 1:30 only to find them beginning at 4:30.

Hearings on governor appointments. I suppose if a controversial appointment were made, it would make sense to scrutinize that appointment closely, but what happened in Senate Rules on Friday was not investigative. Yesterday, HJR 1 Permanent Funds for Early Childhood was the first bill on the agenda. A crowd of advocates and voters was on hand to offer comment to urge the committee that killed the bill last session, to reconsider and move it on to Senate Finance. But first there were seven appointments to be approved. Naively, I took my usual spot near an electric outlet so I could plug in and get stuff done. I got a lot done, as the first appointment to be approved was Ryan Stewart who had been appointed as Secretary of Education. Two hours later, the appointment was approved unanimously. There was never any question of Stewart’s qualifications or how the vote would go, but we heard questions from each of the legislator covering most every aspect of public education. This inquiry might have been important except that from the questioning it was clear that Stewart had met with most of the members of the committee previously, undoubtedly to discuss the very questions they repeated in the hearing. And we also heard questions about whether he was a fan of the Eagles, the Cowboys or the Redskins, about how he was adjusting personally to New Mexico and I am sure they ultimately prodded his preference: red, green or Christmas. I can’t verify that as after about 90 minutes, I left to listen in to the House Floor debate.

There is an important role for the Legislature to play in reviewing and approving the governor’s appointments and the Secretary of Education is an important position, but a room full of advocates had come to participate in debate on HJR-1 and they spent three hours listening to a lovefest with Ryan Stewart. There must be a way to conduct appointment hearings in another way and to consume less time in doing them. HJR-1 is slated for Senate Rules again this morning, but another eight appointments must be considered first.

Memorials consume an enormous amount of time. There are memorials and then there are memorials. Yesterday there was Senator John Pinto Day and a Memorial in his honor was introduced with most every member of the Senate offering a tribute to the late Senator Pinto. This took a lot of time. But Senator Pinto was a revered member of the Senate who served in the Senate for decades. This is what Memorials should be about. But yesterday, there were other Memorials on the calendar:

  • NM Athletic Trainer Day (Small)
  • NM Architects Day (Fajardo)
  • NM-Taiwan Relations Day (Roybal Caballero-Lente)
  • Sunset Mesa 5th Graders Day (Thomson)

In each instance, the Representative introducing the memorial will describe why their Memorial is important often with other legislators amplifying on the person or issue being memorialized. If we are going to memorialize architects and 5th graders from just one school, where does it end? Do we memorialize every profession and every school? As with the appointments, it would seem that a better way could be found to efficiently process memorials in a way that doesn’t consume hours and hours of each session.

Honored Guests. Every day during Senate and House floor sessions, during announcements, legislators stand and introduce a few constituents from their district or offer glowing praise to a teacher, a sheriff, a student or a business from their district. I am sure that all of these people are great people, but as with the memorials, where does it end?

Endless, Repetitive Debate. Last year, it was Senator Sharer who rambled for hours during the Energy Transition Act floor debate, but in most every committee legislators draw out hearings with repetitive questions. With Republicans this is intentional, as stalling is their only tool for opposing legislation, as they simply don’t have the votes. I spoke with Rep. Ely about this last session and he seemed to accept that this was a legitimate, if annoying, tactic. But if the purpose of the legislature is to deliberate thoughtfully on legislation and move bills to the Governor’s desk, that purpose is not served by these delay tactics.

I am sure that some of you who attend legislative proceedings can identify other inefficiencies that clog the legislative process. Retake is going to discuss all of these issues with legislators in the last week of the session and ask for possible solutions. After the session ends, Retake volunteers will devote time to identifying “best practices” in the legislative process and try to identify reforms that could free the legislators to devote more time to important legislation and less time to functions that could be handled in another manner. Especially in a short session, time is an invaluable resource and devoting so much of it to functions that could possibly be handled more efficiently or in other contexts will leave many, many good bills stuck in committees for lack of time.

There has to be a better way.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne



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12 replies

  1. Paul, I hope you and Roxanne had a wonderful Valentines Day. Thank you both for all you do for our state. Another point on legislative efficiency is that those of us in rural areas, and during inclement weather, cannot be expected to sit for hours waiting for hearings to begin. It seems to me the delay is a way to silence not only people who are there, but people who would like to be there and heard on a timely basis.

  2. I certainly hope that the inclusion of stakeholders in the Solar Study groups doesn’t result in a bill defined by PNM. PNM has consistently fought against any version of community solar that isn’t owned by PNM. . The concept of community solar has been around long enough that it is not clear what would be studied. I’d worry if the study group, once again, blocked New Energy Economy’s participation. If the HM 63 does pass we need to make sure that NEE is at the table as they really do seem to be the only group that is able to check PNM.

  3. Paul, one thing to look at is whether the delays come disproportionally from GOP members as part of their delaying tactics to limit the number of bills passed.
    I would ask not only volunteers but also interview leading legislators how they see the problem and what the culture allows in the way of remedies.

  4. Paul, I haven’t attended a lot of hearings over the past three years but I have followed some specific issues during this period and tried to understand them. This morning I sat in a hearing for a version of a bill that was originally introduced in 2013, as I heard. I had not read the text of the entire bill but I have a fairly good knowledge on the topic from Retake, New Energy Economy and the analysis to it available on the legislative website. I listened carefully to the introduction from one of the sponsors and followed the comments from the floor for over one hour. Then a few of the committee began to ask questions. When I left one hour later, following the Do Pass vote, I decided that some of the legislators either don’t read the bills, don’t have any background information specific to the bills or have read and heard and don’t understand the basics. They ask questions that have been clearly answered in the previous hour. Or they might be playing to their base who could be watching the hearing on the website. The other option that came to mind is that this is the time delay strategy. But, as you might inform legislators with whom you speak after the session, I have come away with the impression that these people don’t have much intelligence, don’t listen to others who are speaking and don’t do their homework as legislators. I’m sure none of them want to perpetuate this impression. Yet, they reinforce it year after year, issue after issue.

  5. What’s especially poignant to me is that I could have written this blog post twenty years ago there seems to be no inclination among our senators and reps to make our legislature more user friendly. Except they do livestream now

  6. We will do well to have a legislative process that’s more intensely focused on deliberating policy decisions – legislation, that is.

    We have to be careful in the process that we don’t drive any public business into the proverbial smoke-filled back room. For example, appointment confirmation hearings probably don’t belong in legislative sessions, limited as the time is; but I think it is important that confirmations are conducted wide open to the citizens.

    Maybe appointment confirmations could be made part of the interim committee hearing schedule (the hearings held each year between legislative sessions).

  7. It’s astounding how we hamstring ourselves with our own stupid unnecessary rules which ought to be able to be easily changed.

  8. Excruciating! This is the visible nonsense they engage in, when they are not belittling constituents, or hiding from them. They duck out for a gluttonous lobbyists paid meal at an expensive restaurant, where they are sure they will only run into the right kind of well heeled constituents. They are why this state is at the bottom of the list for everything.

    The Oil and Gas industry is in high gear advertising their wonderfulness in every possible venue. They leave out the part about how in the lean years they took millions in taxpayer funded subsidies as money was diverted from education, CYFD and other agencies The O& G industry dodged millions in taxes, as governor Martinez dismantled our environmental and enforcement agencies. The local paper runs their advertorials for free, just like they do for the broken but profitable healthcare industry.

    Fracking is not just bad for the environment, the influx of temporary labor brings lots of problems

    https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/opinion/2020/02/12/spaceport-claims-dont-add-up/4724922002/

    More marketing for the local “non profit hospital,” and against Medicare for All, to coincide the our legislature. https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/opioid-treatment-evolves-at-christus-st-vincent/article_8fd7b350-4847-11ea-8ef9-43c1fd857e8b.html What they leave out in order to put a positive spin on 30 years of inaction, and lack of a practical response. There is no way to know how effective this “evolution” is for the community. It sounds better than shaming and denying healthcare. They would see the same people week after week in the ER, until they finally just died. It was a revolving door, and they did nothing for decades. It is doubtful that much has changed, as a religious hospital, they were under no moral compulsion to do the right thing. Beliefs are more important than facts, especially when they support the bottom line, money. They kicked them our for the community or their families to deal with. They just pass them along to a low income clinic, that “did not have the funding” to treat them. They did the same thing with sick people too, if their insurance did not pay enough for actual care.

    This is the kind of community we live in here in Santa Fe, those that are in certain demographic groups never experience this kind of thing. https://www.sfreporter.com/news/2020/02/11/broken-hearing/ Having seen first hand how some people are treated here, and seen the passive aggressive behavior at this clinic, and others, there is no reason to doubt this account. It is hard to tell which problem, the police or the clinic staff, used as an excuse to mistreat this person, the hearing aids or the gender issues. They have a big problem with both.

  9. Even in a time of runaway, unstoppable, Global Warming our ‘representatives’ show their lack of care for the People and Life existing within NM’s borders. And what about the people themselves? Are we suffering from surplus powerlessness as most Americans do?
    Knowing, reporting to one another in these pages and posting critiques here and there, like placing bumper stickers on the rear of our cars, have been of no consequence.
    If we want a better, leaner and meaner, legislature organized around the idea of care for the people and the land,dedicated to solve problems, many quite old, then we need to first decide that we want to do something about it, other than complaining.
    I think this is probably the most important post because it begins to unveil the deep social dysfunction of our legislature.
    So, what do we do, all of us, Retake, XR, YUCCA, VFP, ETC?????
    Because, runaway global warming does not give us much time, if any. Because the poor never stops suffering. Because if we do not build resilience in our communities, cities and state, our situation is bound, according to history, to get worse and we will not be able to adapt to dramatic climate changes already here. Because, as the republic is being dismantled and replaced by a patriarchal, dictatorship of male sociopaths we will not know what to do with its consequences.

  10. Hi Paul and Roxanne,

    Indeed, what you describe re: the legislative session’s inefficiencies has some very culturally challenging aspects. Your points are well-taken!

    When you have a chance, I wonder if you think that having paid legislators were help to address some of these issues, either directly or indirectly.

    From the little I understand about how politics work in New Mexico, being a newcomer, I am beginning to see that a lot of “backroom” deals seem to be going on. The one I am trying to penetrate concerns the asphalt plant issue that you addressed in the blog this week.

    The reason I bring that up is this: perhaps the actual “business” of the legislature happens outside of the session and much is decided behind the scenes. I am fairly sure this is true everywhere, but possibly even more so in this case.

    The bio of Richard Cook, who died a few years ago, is an example of something that connects to Senator Martinez, who was convicted of drunk driving. Guess who was mentioned in Cook’s obituary? The very same.

    All best wishes,

    Linda

  11. I await your analysis of the death of the community solar bill. Why did so many Dems vote against it? PNM and EPE opposition?

  12. If the legislators are allowed to filibuster ad nauseum, the citizens should be allowed to as well. Perhaps giving citizens this equal right, and letting the leg suffer through our diatribes as we do theirs, would make them change this and place some limits.

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