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2016 Legislative Session Wraps Up

Chris Goldberg via Flickr, Creative Commons

The NM Legislature wrapped up another session. KUNM's Chris Boros speaks with GwynethDoland about what happened and what didn’t happen.

KUNM: So, Senators and Representatives, they stayed up pretty late last night but I understand they didn’t pull an all-nighter like they sometimes do.

Doland: Thank goodness! But this session, it did have a little bit different feel and a different pace to it. It started slow as it often does but it kind of ended slow. Once they got through the stuff they had to do, like passing a budget and fixing the driver’s license thing, everything just started to slow down.

KUNM: So tell us about the big things that happened.

Doland: Well, like I said, they passed a budget. They created new driver’s licenses that will be in compliance with the Federal REAL ID Act while allowing driver authorization cards for folks who don’t want REAL ID's, or who aren’t in the country legally. They passed a package of capital outlay money for public works projects. They agreed on changes to the bail system that will keep dangerous folks behind bars but allow the release of folks who are not dangerous, just too poor to get out. And they agreed on tougher penalties for child porn. 

KUNM: What are some things that they tackled that we didn’t know they were going to tackle?

Doland: Well, some of the things, they expanded access to a drug that’s been really successful in reversing heroin overdoses. They made a plan to work on tougher penalties for stealing Native American artifacts. They agreed to move unclaimed lottery prizes into the scholarship fund, so take that scratcher in today. They acted to keep young athletes out of the game longer if they’ve had a concussion. They moved on giving college credit for some military service. Plus, they voted to give the Spaceport a liquor license, allow some retail stores to fill growlers and sell them, and to let ski areas serve booze away from the lodges. 

KUNM: So I can go up in space with a beer? Is that what you’re saying? [laughter] What about, wait, serving booze away from lodges? What’s that about?

Doland:  I didn’t know about that either but I heard the debate and what they want to do is, the ski areas want to have summer festivals and events outside.  And this would make it easier for them to have beer in a tent at a concert or something.

KUNM:  Sounds pretty good.  What didn’t happen at the session?

Doland: Oh, so much stuff, you know, and that’s not unusual.  Well, the short session is a recipe for disappointment, Chris. Almost everyone leaves bummed that some great idea they had failed. It’s really hard to tell people that they only get a chance once a year to change laws and fix things and make them better. And for most issues it’s one chance every two years during the long session. 

KUNM: Sounds dysfunctional really?

Doland: Yeah, maybe. I mean most people don’t really want full-time lawmakers. They don’t want people up there just wasting time and messing with stuff, you know? You and I both know that if we don’t have anything really important to do, oh, we’ll find something.

KUNM: What else didn’t happen? Were there other things they just didn’t do?

Doland: Yeah, I mean a lot of stuff that got a lot of coverage like youth curfews didn’t happen. Abortion restrictions, three-strike sentencing, and efforts to reinstate the food tax, a bill that critics said would have allowed discrimination against gay people in the name of religious freedom - none of that happened.

KUNM: Now you’ve been watching money in politics this session.  And you told us about different proposals, dealing with lobbying, payday lending, ethics.

Doland: Yeah, none of that happened.

KUNM: None of it?

Doland: No, pretty much, no.  Advocates for good government and campaign finance reform really thought that all the bad publicity of the last year was going to give them this momentum that they needed to get changes made.  But there were some really energized sponsors and a lot of community groups and chambers of commerce and folks like that up there super psyched about it.  Most lawmakers, and especially the Senate, not that psyched.

KUNM: And I understand they voted to allow some 17-year-olds to vote?

Doland:  That’s right!  If the governor signs that bill, people who are 17 can vote in the primary elections if they’re going to be 18 by the time of the general elections.

KUNM: But the plan to open primaries to Independents, that failed. 

Doland: Yeah, if you’re 17 you can vote but only if you register as a Democrat or a Republican. 

KUNM: Got it, got it. So the session ended today, now what happens?

Doland: Well, some of the stuff that people didn’t get to do they’re going to work on again. You know, the ethics commission that failed. That will come back. The plan to expose dark money in politics failed but they’re going to bring it back. Almost all of the plans for revealing more money in politics died and I think we’ll see those coming back. The one that passed will give reporters and other folks who are interested better tools to follow the money that moves between lobbyists and lawmakers. And the House is going to start archiving its webcasts. All of that stuff happens, but Governor Martinez is going to look over everything.  She wants public comments so by all means call, e-mail, let her know if you want her to sign or veto anything. She has to decide by March 9. 

KUNM: And you’ll keep us all informed about this won’t you?

Doland: You bet. 

KUNM: All right, GwynethDoland, thank you. 

Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

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