Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Will Richardson sign open conference committees?

I asked Gov. Bill Richardson directly about whether he'd sign the open conference committees bill at one press conference during the session and he said yes. And he's told reporters in the past he's for it, including, if memory serves, at a breakfast sponsored by either the NM Press Association or the Foundation for Open Government.

But it sounds like he might have changed his mind. Read this for the scoop.

If you think this issue is only about reporters, think again. For the very first open conference committee held the last morning of the session, there were more than reporters there, even though it was hastily convened and started minutes after it was announced (only) on the Senate floor.

And, don't forget the issue that arose out of that meeting -- one that we might not have heard about otherwise: it was the one that caused the major dust up between House Speaker Ben Lujan and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Done, done and done!

The House and Senate have left the building.

Gotta say in my ten-plus years of covering the Legislature, the floor debates at the end were about as mild as I've seen. Many of the key issues were dealt with in recent days and last night.

However, there was a dust up between House Speaker Ben Lujan and Sen. John Arthur Smith over the amendment I mentioned in my previous blog. Smith during the conference committee said the Lujan amendment had a cloud of suspicion over it. The amendment -- now a moot point because it was taken off -- appears that it would have allowed financing for a project at the Santa Fe Railyard.

Lujan in an interview after the session strongly denied that he would gain anything from the amendment, which he said sponsored for a constituent. After the session ended, Lujan approached Smith on the Senate floor, angrily telling him "you're not worth a darn, that's what the matter with you, you are a racist S.O.B."

Smith reacted, saying "You’d like for people to have better control in public but I understand when you’re tired and spend a lot of time (working)."

Listen here to Lujan talking to Smith.

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Just more than three hours to go

The Senate is in session.

Senate Majority Leader MIchael Sanchez is joking that he just saw the members of the Senate, and well, he did. They stayed until about one this morning, the House stayed past three a.m.

The House spent much of its time on a debate that ultimately ended with the rejection of the so-called TIDD bills. The House also passed campaign contribution limits, The Senate at this moment is deciding whether to accept the amendments.

The most colorful thing I've seen so far this morning are the pajamas of the College of Santa Fe students who apparently spent the night outside to Roundhouse, waiting for the bill that would authorize a state takeover of the college to be heard. So far, no luck on that front. But with three hours to go, anything could happen.

Update, 10:15 a.m.

Sen. John Arthur Smith just announced a conference committee on SB 584. And he just invited the media. A historic moment. I'm going now...

Update, 10:47 a.m.

I've just returned from history in the making, an open conference committee. . . The meeting was hastily announced and very short, but still, several reporters, lobbyists and others were in the room.

The committee took up an amendment put on the bill, which deals with financing of charter schools among other projects. The amendment, put on by House Speaker Ben Lujan, raised the eyebrows of Smith, who questioned whether it was allowable. The committee took out that amendment. More info on that when I wake up enough to understand what it does.

Friday, March 20, 2009

24 hours to go, 230 items on Senate calendar

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez just announced that there are 230 items to get to between now and Saturday's noon adjournment.

I won't do the math on that one, but it's a load.

"I don't know that we'll get through all of them," he said.

Over in the House, there are just as many. Too many to count probably. Sounds like that chamber plans to take up the Senate version of the so-called TIDD bills.

Now that it's past noon, there are less than 24 hours to go in this session. . .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Senate passes open conference committees, gov to sign

(Updated, 11 p.m. Thursday)

I know I've said this before and perhaps I do sound like a broken record. But the Senate tonight is set to consider a measure to open conference committees to the public, the media, who ever.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told me his plan is to take up that measure shortly after the Senate comes back into session tonight. That's 6:30-7ish, according to him. Keep in mind, that's Senate time. . .

Still, indications are that this is the night for the bill to be heard, and the year for it to pass, although it's going to be close.

So why hasn't the Senate started up yet? Could be the fact that the Lobos are tied against Notre Dame at the moment...

Update, 7:20 p.m.

Well now that the Lobos game is over (sorry, Lobos) the Senate can start up again. And yes, the lady on the loudspeaker just asked all Senators to report to the chambers.

Update, 7:47 p.m.

The Senate is back.

The conference committees is number 65 on the Senate's supplemental calendar that was just handed out.

Update, 8:02 p.m.

Sanchez just said that the conference committees measure will be the last item on the agenda tonight. Don't think overnighter yet, though. He also said he wants to be out of here by 10 p.m. Key word: "wants."

Update, 9:15 p.m.

The Senate is starting that bill. Sen. Linda Lopez is presenting the measure.

Sanchez wants to know why the bill doesn't apply to other officials.
“Don’t you think the public deserves to be at those types of meeting where a Cabinet secretary is talking to their department heads?”

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia supports the measure.
"The public indeed demands that we have transparency," she said. "We need to do that if we are going to improve our image as state legislators."

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings opposes the measure in part because it doesn't apply to all branches of government.

“If you want to do it to one, please do it to all three,” he said.

Jennings also said the measure should apply to members of the media, who ought to open their editorial board meetings to the public.

Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, also opposes the bill.

“Things could change if we get into a situation if we’re not able to sit down and talk it out and that’s what you do in a conference committee.”

Getting close to a vote.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, is wrapping up.

"I think it’s the public that should be in there looking to see what is going on," she said.

VOTE: It passed 33-8.

Voting no were Sanchez, Jennings, and Sens. Stuart Ingle, Gay Kernan, Kent Cravens, Sue Wilson Beffort, Vernon Asbill and Phil Griego.

Feldman, after the vote, praised those who voted for it -- and those who pushed the measure for years, including former Foundation for Open Government director Bob Johnson.

"It was time," she said.

Gov. Bill Richardson said early today he'd sign the measure.

Richardson announces background check company to headquarter in Alamogordo

Gov. Bill Richardson has announced that PreCheck, Inc will locate its headquarters in Alamogordo. The company does background checks for people in the health care industry.

I wonder if the company can do checks on people whose nominations must go through the Senate Rules Committee, and save the Attorney General from having to do that work.

House has 99 items on calendar today

That's alot.

Let's just suppose they spend five minutes on each measure. That's 495 minutes -- or 8.5 hours. But you know if will be much longer than that. Still on the list are two TIDD bills -- likely to cause some of the longest debate this session.

Check out the agenda here.

(At the moment, the House is on a measure to make this Cowboy Day at the Roundhouse.)

So while it was the Senate who stayed up late last night, look for the House to be the moonlighting chamber today -- even though the Senate has 184 items on it's to-do list. Many of those, however, are memorials. Here's that agenda.

Update, 12:55 p.m.

Without taking action on any meaty items, the House is now in recess until 6 or 7 tonight.

Senate stays up late for budget, but not open government

The state Senate approved the budget Wednesday night, apparently staying past 1 a.m.. It didn't, however, get to Sen. Dede Feldman's measure to open conference committees. Maybe today? (Both the Senate and House versions are now pending in the Senate.)

People often ask what lawmakers do all day -- and night. Here's my attempt to explain what happens, just on Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Richardson signs death penalty repeal

Gov. Bill Richardson just signed the measure to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico.

Richardson is surrounded in his 4th floor Cabinet room by supporters of the repeal including representatives of the Catholic church. The governor said the decision was the toughest he's ever made.

He said he made the decision today at 4 pm after going to mass, visiting the prison in Santa Fe including what he called the death chamber.

"My conclusion was those cells may be something worse than death."

Read Thursday's New Mexican for more information.

Richardson to announce death penalty decision at 6 pm

Senate webcam gives a little wider look

So it still doesn't show anything close to all 42 senators, but the updated Senate webcam is another step in the right direction. Courtesy of a new, wider-angle lens, you can see just a little more of the Senate today.

Maybe someday we'll actually see all the lawmakers. . .

Until then, you'll have to watch what -- and who -- you can.

In that chamber today (still) is the measure to open conference committees, and a whole other list of things.

Meanwhile, in the House, (no video webcasting there, so just listen) lawmakers are set to consider two TIDD-related bills and a measure to increase motor vehicle registration surcharges. Sounds like those are causing consternation, however: the House came in this morning and adjourned about 10 minutes later, headed to caucus. . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Manny gets 67 months in prison

According to Channel 4, former state Senate president Manny Aragon also must pay $650,000 in restitution for his role in courthouse scandal.

Democrats in House Tax Committee nix transparency bill

I wrote this story earlier this session about this bill to put state expenditures online. Well, sometime last evening, the House Taxation and Revenue Committee voted on a party-line vote to table the bill, according to the Senate Republican Office. The Senate had unanimously approved the measure.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, would have created a searchable, online budget database that would have started with the 2011 fiscal year.

"We wanted to demystify the state budget and bolster public confidence in their government. The purpose of this legislation is to invite the public to the negotiating table," he said in a statement.

"By allowing all New Mexicans to read actual budget items, we allow the public a greater understanding and voice in future budget processes," he said. "Now that this bill is tabled in the House, it will take at least another year to get the public this easy access to their budget."

The Democrats voting against the bill, according to the release, were

Rep. Edward Sandoval
Rep. Jim Trujillo
Rep. Ernest Chavez
Rep. Nathan Cote
Rep. Roberto Gonzales
Rep. Sandra Jeff
Rep. Ben Lujan
Rep. Rodolpho Martinez

Republicans who voted for the bill were:

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones
Rep. Anna M. Crook
Rep. Keith Gardner
Rep. William Gray
Rep. James Strickler
Rep. Thomas Taylor

Senate Rules Committee passes open conference committee measure

The debate was short and to the point. And, the Senate Rules Committee just passed Rep. Joe Cervantes' measure to open conference committees.

The same measure (the Senate version) is pending on the Senate floor, you'll remember. So we'll see if that one gets heard or not.

Here was the vote on the do-pass motion. The bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Dianna Duran: yes
Sen. Stuart Ingle: no
Sen. Tim Jennings: no
Sen. Michael Sanchez: yes
Sen. Linda Lopez: yes

The best part of the debate was when Cervantes was presenting the bill and hoped he'd have good luck, being that's it's St. Patrick's Day and all...

"The tradition is to kiss the blarney stone and I'm preapred to kiss just about anything," (to get the bill passed) he joked.

Cervantes said the bill would help him as a lawmaker, because if he's not on the committee -- on big things like the budget, say -- he can't attend.

"I'm excluded as a member from those legislative meetings, and I don't think thats the way the Legislature ought to work."

Jennings said he is against the bill because he doesn't like the fact that members of the executive branch could find out who made motions to nix a project the governor wanted, for example.

"They would make those motions and he would come back and get event with them for those motions," Jennings said. "If anyone can't see that they are blind."

Senate to consider open conference committees...still

So I've said this a few times in past days, but the Senate is still set to consider a measure to open conference committees to the public. I haven't just been making that up, either. The bill has been on the agenda for a while, and today is number 6.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Dede Feldman is starting to wonder, however.
She said yesterday that she's not sure when it will be heard.

"It's just increasingly frustrating. I think the support for it is growing and I am sorry that we continue to close our doors," she said Monday afternoon.

We'll see if that changes today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Senate webcast up and running

As promised, you can check out the Senate's webcast online now.

Now, I don't know what you were hoping to see, but I was kind of hoping to see more than a handful of (the backs of) senators. A pan across the room every once and a while would have been nice as well, maybe a zoom in on the person talking . . .

I don't want to sound unappreciative or anything, because this is a step in the right direction, but the camera really doesn't show everything it could have, and should have. The one camera angle (as compared to the three cameras that were originally installed and then taken down) came after an amendment to the webcasting measure that was included in the bill that passed last Friday. That amendment was sponsored by Sen. John Sapien.

Conference committees bill still on the agenda in Senate

The Senate did several things Sunday, including this measure aimed at stopping animals who eat farmers' crops without shooting them.

The (now webcasting) chamber, however, still has to consider this bill to open conference committees to the public and the media. The bill is on the agenda for today, but if you watched the Senate for more than a day you know that doesn't mean too much. . .

Meanwhile, here's a look at what the House has cooking today. Expect big debates on the ATV bill and the electronic medical records measure. Oh, and thank goodness the internet service there was restored last night, especially for members who'd rather look a bill up online than lug around a giant briefcase of bills. . .

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Senate webcast not up yet, but coming soon . . . and other Saturday Legislature news

I don't think anyone thought it would happen literally overnight, and it didn't. But webcasts from the Senate, approved Friday, could start as soon as Sunday. That's the same day the Senate is supposed to consider a measure to open conference committees to the public and the media. Now wouldn't it be something if the debate about openness in government was webcast around the world?

The House also is scheduled to meet Sunday. Even though there's no video, you can listen online to both chambers here.

Thanks to the AP's Barry Massey for keeping tabs on the Legislature today. Looks like the House twice tied on (and thus rejected) a Speaker Ben Lujan measure to allow some cities to issue bonds for private development projects. That story here.

The House easily approved another measure by Lujan, however, that would allow legal notices to be read on tv and radio stations and posted on their websites instead of printed in newspapers. Those legals are usually about lawsuits and upcoming meetings of importance and other fine-print type stuff most people don't read. Still, they are printed in a newspaper of general circulation so groups like the government can give people notice of big projects, for example. And, legals are a source of revenue for newspapers. Read more about Lujan's measure here.

Meanwhile, Massey reports that the Senate Finance Committee didn't set aside any money in the budget bill it approved for the takeover of the College of Santa Fe. The budget now heads to the full Senate.

Sunday looks like it will be a long day, especially in the Senate. You can find the online calendars here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Senate approves webcasting bill

The Senate just approved this measure by Sen. Mark Boitano to allow webcasting, C-Span style, from the Senate floor.

“Citizens want more access to government, they will have it,” Boitano said.

“This openness and transparency that we are creating here will enable us to engage with more citizens and their voices will be stronger and stronger,” he said.

The vote was 37-0. Expect webcasting as soon as this weekend on the Legislature's website.

Senate approves repeal of death penalty, 24-18, Richardson says he's still undecided

After hours of emotional debate and years of effort, the Senate has approved a measure that would repeal the death penalty in New Mexico. The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Richardson, who just said in a statement he's undecided.

Here's the roll call vote:

Adair: no
Asbill: no
Beffort: no
Boitano: no
Campos: yes
Cisneros: yes
Cravens: no
Duran: no
Eichenberg: yes
Feldman: yes
Fischmann: yes
Garcia: yes
E. Griego: yes
P. Griego: yes
Harden: no
Ingle: no
Jennings: no
Keller: yes
Kernan: no
Leavell: no
Lopez: yes
Lovejoy: yes
Martinez: no
McSorley: yes
Morales: yes
Munoz: yes
Nava: yes
Neville: no
Ortiz y Pino: yes
Papen: yes
Payne: no
Pinto: yes
Rodriguez: yes
Rue: no
Ryan: no
B. Sanchez: yes
M. Sanchez: yes
Sapien: yes
Sharer: no
Smith: no
Ulibarri: yes
Wirth: yes

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Richardson says that people interested in providing their input on the repeal should call 505-476-2225 and leave a message. You can also e-mail him through the governor's web site.

Richardson says he's still undecided on the measure.

"This is an extremely difficult issue that deserved the serious and thoughtful debate it received in the Legislature," he said in a statement. "I have met with many people and will continue to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision."

Senate on death penalty, House on education tax

This is one of those few moments when the House and Senate are focused on single topics for hours on end, where when you patrol the third floor of the Capitol, there's hardly anyone there.

In the Senate, it's the bill to repeal to the death penalty.

In the House, it's the measure that imposes a surtax for education of 0.75% on gross receipts and compensating taxes.

Funny, they are the two things you can't avoid: death and taxes.

Senate to consider open conference committees bill

After a little jockeying, Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, was able on Thursday night to send her measure to open conference committees on to the Senate floor.

Feldman had to take some unusual steps this session to get her bill to the Senate floor, perhaps a sign of her frustration with the resistance this bill has met over the years, and most recently in the Senate Rules Committee, where another bill she introduced that does the same thing had been sitting for weeks.

No word yet on when the bill could be heard by all 42 senators. A similar bill passed the House and is waiting in the Senate Rules Committee -- the same place the House bill by Rep. Joe Cervantes is pending.

Don't expect the conference committees bill to be heard in the Senate any time too soon, though. The chamber today likely will consider the death penalty repeal, and I'm told, a bill that would allow webcasting from the Senate floor, among other things.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Senate approves campaign contribution limits

New Mexico would join most other states in the nation under a measure approved just now by the Senate.

Only Sen. Rod Adair,R-Roswell, voted against the bill, saying it didn't go far enough. Several supporters also said the bill doesn't do as much as it could to stop the influence of money in elections, but called it an important first step.

The limit boils down to $2,300 a calendar year from a person to a candidate.

It also imposes the following limits in a calendar year, starting in 2011:

From a person to a Political Action Committee: $5,000.
From a person to political party: $10,000.
From a PAC to a candidate: $5,000.
From a PAC to political party: $5,000.
From a political party to a candidate: $10,000.
From a political party to a PAC: $10.000.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, applauded the move.

"To the extent that we can limit the money that goes into campaigns, we should seize every opportunity to do it, however imperfect that measure may be," she said.

Adair, however, said one of the flaws in the measure is that it waits too long to take effect.

"Don’t beat your chest about being ethics reform champions," he said in explaining his vote on the Senate floor. "You’ve had a chance to do the right thing over and over you took 2009 off and put 2011 on."

Development-related bills popular this session

It's come to the point where the acronyms are jokes on the House and Senate floors: we've got TIDDs, PIDs, and IDZs. All are different mechanisms to pay for development in our state, and all are before lawmakers this session.

The TIDDs have gotten big attention so far. And I wrote this about the IDZs. Another bill, one that allows private-public facilities bonds, popped up last night in committee and is now headed to the House floor. Sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, the measure allows cities to pay part or all of bonds for projects related to the agricultural, mining and film industries.

As the state grapples with its budget and how to pay for future growth, expect heated debate in the coming days on development policies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Richardson's office releases official photo

This just in my inbox from the Governor's Office: there's an official Bill Richardson photo.

Looks like we're saved from having to write anything else about whether he'll shave the beard -- for now.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Senate approves Expenditure Transparency Act

Number 10 on today's Senate calendar is this measure.

The bill creates a searchable database of state expenditures, giving anyone detailed access to how state and federal money is spent. It's similar to what President Obama is proposing on federal level. Expect good debate on this one. Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, is the sponsor.

Already, a similar bill was tabled in the House Appropriation and Finance Committee this session.

Update, 2:30 p.m.

After some debate, including about the cost, the measure passed the Senate 38-0 and it now goes to the House.

Monday, March 9, 2009

12 days to go

By many accounts, this (moneyless) session so far has been slow. That's about to change. With just more than two weeks to go, the pace is quickening.

Expect longer days, especially in committee, as sponsors try to get their bills to the floor as soon as they can.

Even though they worked on it this weekend, the Senate didn't take action on the webcasting bill. See this for a recap of what happened there.

That chamber did, however, turn down a bill to prohibit legislators form becoming lobbyists for a year after serving in the Capitol.

As for today, a measure in the state is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Speaking of late meetings, that will probably be one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

House wins basketball game

There was a lot of talking smack by the Senate this year (today in particular) about how it would trounce the House in tonight's annual charity House-Senate basketball game.

Well, according to unconfirmed reports, the House won 61-51 in a game that even featured Rep. Lucky Varela. MVP was Thomas Garcia and Rep. (and ABQ mayoral candidate) Richard Berry apparently was a big star.

Maybe next time, Senate.

Senate to consider webcasting bill today

Seems like a long time ago when the session was just getting started and the big hoopla was over webcasting. Of course, since then, we've seen the addition of video and audio streaming of House and Senate meetings from a variety of groups, including two lawmakers. (Well, almost two. Rep. Dennis Kintigh reports he's still working through the glitches on his webcasting system.)

But Rep. Janice-Arnold Jones took the lead on this issue as has been diligently putting her committee meetings out there for all to see.

Will the Senate do the same?

It is set today to consider Sen. Mark Boitano's measure to allow webcasting from the Senate floor. Expect some good debate on this one.

Update, 1:45 p.m.

So looks like the Senate won't get to that bill today. Senators were busy on other things today. Stay tuned this weekend I guess.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

E-mail records request bill passes House

The House has signed off on Rep. Joe Cervantes' bill that would recognize as email as an official written request under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

If you haven't been following this issue, what I just said seems obvious: that an e-mail is a written request. Yet, I've had fights with one state agency in particular that would not accept an e-mail as a written request for public documents. Being that an e-mail is of course, in writing, I never understood the argument. But I know other reporters as well have had this problem, which the bill fixes. It was approved unanimously and goes to the Senate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Webcasting bill passes Senate Rules

Sen. Mark Boitano's measure to allow webcasting from the Senate floor was approved this morning in the Senate Rules Committee. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Keep your eyes peeled for this one. The speed with which it is heard will determine the support among key leaders. . .

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Budget Transparency Act axed

A measure by Rep. Dennis Kintigh to post the state budget online and make it searchable was tabled last night in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Concerns about the bill included the work that would be involved with posting the budget online, and the cost. So Kintigh will turn the bill into a memorial so the idea can be studied. Maybe next year.

The demise of that bill comes as the Legislature is mostly on a roll this year in terms of transparency measures.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Even more webcasts available now

As soon as it gets started, (soon-ish) today's meeting of the House Judiciary Committee will be webcast here, courtesy of Rep. Dennis Kintigh.

Funny how at the start of this session, that wouldn't have occurred to many people. Now both Kintigh and Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones are putting legislative meetings on the web. This is in addition to the handful of other groups putting audio and video on the web this session.

House gives nod to bill to open conference committees

Few things around here pass with no debate, and few things are quick.

But Rep. Joe Cervantes' measure to open conference committees to the public and the media -- and to other lawmakers, for that fact -- just cleared the House with no debate, and no opposition.

We'll see how far the bill gets in the Senate, where it traditionally dies.

House to consider conference committees bill . . . and other open-government news

The House today could consider Rep. Joe Cervantes' measure to open conference committees to the public. While the measure had a little trouble getting out of committee this year, it is expected to pass the House. The real test comes in the Senate.

Meanwhile, remember the bill that aimed to make it easier thttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifo get public records that got bogged down with all kinds of exemptions to the state's Inspection of Public Records Act? Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday those exemptions should be taken out, even though it was members of his administration who proposed them. Stay tuned on that one.

Also today, a budget transparency measure sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kintigh is set to be heard in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The measure creates a searchable database of the state budget.