While debating restructuring the NM Legislature, volunteer legislators run out of time

House panel passes two bills but delays vote on a third due to time pressures

By: - February 14, 2023 4:30 am

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe in April 2022. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

A panel of New Mexico lawmakers started to debate proposed changes to the structure of the Legislature itself, but ran out of time before they could finish their business.

The House Judiciary Committee passed two bills along party line votes on Monday, and it was like watching in real time the criticism that the way the legislative branch in New Mexico runs now, lawmakers do not have time to properly study and vote on complex issues, resulting in many bills never making it through each year.

After two hours of debate the committee passed House Bill 4, known as the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, which did not pass during last year’s short 30-day session in part because opponents ran out the clock.

They also passed House Joint Resolution 2, which would ask voters to decide if, among other important changes, all legislative sessions should be 60-days long, so that such delaying tactics alone could not sink proposals in the future.

Rep. Natalie Figueroa (D-Albuquerque) told the committee it would change the way elected officials talk and think about bills. She mentioned some pull the filibuster tactic, that allows for lengthy debate to run out the clock, and this would alter that legislative chess move. Instead, lawmakers will have to debate proposals in front of them and either vote it down or move them forward on their merits, she said.

“New Mexicans deserve more informed legislators, more thoughtfully vetted and more deliberately debated policy, and to have the full scope of their needs addressed in both legislative sessions, without restrictions to a governor’s message,” Figueroa, a co-sponsor, said. “New Mexicans deserve a more balanced government.”

Because the Legislature runs at a fast pace, sometimes 30-days but this year 60-days, the committee ran out of time before it could take a vote on a third piece of legislation on its agenda.

With a floor session in the House of Representatives looming and a winter storm pressuring people to get home, the Judiciary Committee had to rush through public comment on House Joint Resolution 8, which would ask voters to decide whether lawmakers should receive a salary and to create a commission to determine how much they would be paid.

This is another measure lawmakers say will “modernize” the legislature.

“We like brief presentations anyway,” said Committee Chair Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), before joking that there aren’t usually many questions during committee hearings anyway.

In order to make it to the floor that night, Chandler said they would delay real discussion and an actual vote on HJR 8 and instead deal with it on Wednesday.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.