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.
Paul & Roxanne