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NM Must Fix Our Process First

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You can’t easily fix specific problems with a broken process. That’s my theory, and it’s why I always start my state legislative analysis with proposed constitutional amendments.

The session that started last week is a 30-day budget session. The only thing on the agenda is the budget, and whatever else the governor proposes – which this year is gun regulation (perhaps a subject for a future column). The exception is constitutional amendments.

The Senate and House can propose constitutional amendments as joint resolutions. The governor has no veto. Amendments approved by both houses can only be vetoed by us, the voters. If this session goes like most, few of the amendments will get serious consideration – except by me.

For several years, I have been working on our local Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill to support process change, as well as new laws. This year she told me she is convinced. In fact, she
cosponsored two amendments. They’re not the ones I wanted, but still, it’s a good sign.

The most important proposal is to have a normal 60-day session every year. No more budget sessions. There are two similar proposals that will probably be combined. This proposal has sponsors from both parties, which increases its chances.

The current session system is dysfunctional. In odd-year normal sessions, the Legislature never finishes its work, leaving good bills unpassed in the last few days. If you follow the Legislature, you’ve seen it happen to your favorite bills. In even years, everyone is frustrated that known problems aren’t even discussed.

We have enough legislative work for regular sessions every year. But passing this amendment means legislators would do more work for the same pay – none. Last year there was a proposal to pay legislators and hire more staff. There’s still time (and money) to propose that again.

Another interesting proposal is to eliminate pocket vetoes. The current system is complicated and stupid. Legislation passed during the last three days of the session can be pocket vetoed – that is, ignored. If it’s not signed, it fails, with no explanation required.

The proposal is that every bill must be either signed or vetoed with a reason. If no veto or signature, the bill becomes law. This reform is so obvious that it’s hard to imagine why anyone of either party would oppose it. Unlike most issues, the conflict is between legislative and executive branches, not between parties.

A bit of trivia: This section of the constitution refers to the governor with male pronouns, although the last two governors have been female. The amendment also fixes the revised section, although male pronouns remain elsewhere in the constitution.

Another proposal is to make the redistricting commission truly independent. Back in 2021, the Democrat-controlled Legislature set up a commission to propose legislative boundaries in the process that occurs every 10 years, after the census. But Democrats gave themselves a loophole to override the commission, which they did. The successful gerrymander gave Democrats another representative in Congress.

The proposal is to make the commission independent, so that the majority party cannot cheat. This proposal has two Democratic sponsors, but after what happened in the 2021 redistricting, I can’t see why all 40 Republicans aren’t co-sponsoring it. I think anyone who is sure their party will be in power in seven years is too dumb to be in the Legislature. If Democrats don’t vote for this now, and Republicans get the majority in 2031, their revenge will be mighty.

As with all amendments, the devil is in the details. I haven’t studied whether the commission would be truly independent. If the Legislature passes it, voters will have to decide whether it will do what it claims.
Our Sen. Correa Hemphill co-sponsored two amendments. One is to create a new commission to direct the Children, Youth and Families Department. The other is to create nominating committees to propose a list of potential university regents for the governor to choose from. I’m not familiar with these issues, but you can grill our senator the next time you see her.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to look up the amendment proposals I didn’t discuss. Some amendments weren’t proposed that I think are more important than the ones that were. Although this is an election year, there were, at press time, no election reform amendments. If you read this column regularly, you’ve seen my diatribes about election problems, especially plurality winners.

It’s hard to say which amendments the Legislature will pass and the voters will enact. Legislators are ornery, unpredictable and sometimes crazy. But voters can also be ornery, unpredictable and sometimes crazy. At least our ornery, unpredictable and sometimes crazy governor will have only one vote, like the rest of us.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to bruce@greensilverlinings.com.
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