Legislature 2015: What Bills Didn't Pass?
KUNM's Chris Boros chatted with Gwyneth Doland about bills that did not pass at the state legislature this session. It's part of our People, Power and Democracy reporting project. Our partners are New Mexico In Depth, New Mexico PBS and the UNM Communication and Journalism Department.
KUNM: We heard from you this morning about some of the bills that passed and are awaiting the governor's signature. But that was only a couple hundred bills. And there are many, many more that did not make it.
Doland: That’s right. Including the $264 million package of infrastructure projects across the state. That is called capitol outlay. The House Republicans amended that bill after the Senate passed it stripping out money for senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, a bunch of stuff including UNM, in order to fit in some of Governor Susana Martinez’s priorities, including a bunch of road projects, more money for economic development in the deal-closing fund—and $4 million to build a hangar at Spaceport America.
KUNM: And there was this last-minute game of chicken that ended up leaving none of the projects funded.
Doland: It was a really high-tension fight. And a big part of that this year was having a Republican majority in the House for the first time in 60 years. All new committee heads, a bunch of people who weren’t quite used to how the process works. And Republicans were working very closely with Martinez to push hard on a narrow but aggressive agenda that was very popular with their base—but obviously opposed by Senate Democrats, who were determined to block them.
KUNM: In the past few weeks you reported on an attempt to cap storefront lending interest rates at 36 percent and efforts to force more disclosure from lobbyists and political action committees. What happened to those?
Doland: They ended up not passing. They didn’t really go anywhere. We got a little bit of lobbying reform but not anywhere near what it looked like. Also, things that failed included a bill that would have prevented folks from using public campaign finance money to pay their family members. Also, a cool-down period for lawmakers who leave office and then turn around and immediately start lobbying their former colleagues. We call that the revolving door.
KUNM: What about this push to keep cities and counties from further regulating mining or oil and gas development? How did that go?
Doland: This came up because Mora became the first county in the nation to pass an ordinance banning fracking and there has been great concern that other communities around the state would follow because it’s a very political thing and if they do have this ability, it could have a really negative impact on the oil and gas and mining industries which a) employ a lot of people and b) contribute significantly to the state’s bottom line. But the bill died. As did a bill that would have solved regulatory problems plaguing the Internet ride-booking services Uber and Lyft. They have not cleared up that problem.
KUNM: There were a whole handful of high-profile issues that failed, including a renewed push to hold back third graders who aren’t reading at grade level, repealing drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, right-to-work, a raise of the minimum wage and restrictions on abortion. What else failed?
Doland: There was another bill that would have yanked licenses from teens who are absent from school too often. It passed the Senate but it didn’t make it in the House. Neither did bills to legalize marijuana and decrease the penalties for possessing it.
KUNM: What didn’t we hear about?
Doland: I didn’t know about this bill that would have the use of drones for surveillance. I didn’t even hear about that until it was all over. And I don’t think we talked about the bill that would have banned coyote-killing contests. And that didn’t go anywhere either.
KUNM: It seems like so much failed. Why? Is this normal?
Doland: No, it’s not normal. Only about a third of the bills that usually pass happened this year. It was a very political session, very emotional. People were really tense. This was just part of the bigger picture of the Republicans’ effort to exert their power in Santa Fe. They have the Governor’s office. They have the House. The Democrats were pushing back just as hard, trying to hold on to the power that they still have left. And all that push, push, pushing back and forth got in the way of bills getting through.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between New Mexico In Depth, KUNM and NMPBS, People, Power and Democracy, that attempts to pull back the curtain on how the New Mexico Legislature works and, in some cases, doesn’t. It's funded by the Thornburg Foundation and the Loeks Family Fund.