House, Senate can’t rest yet

Staff and wire reports

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson says lawmakers did great work in the legislative session that ended Saturday — just not enough of it.
The governor said while it was the most productive session in state history, “we still have business to finish.”

He said he will call the Legislature back into a special session beginning Tuesday to act on a highway package, ethics measures, crime bills, a domestic partnership proposal and more.

“We’re on a roll, so let’s continue that roll,” Richardson told a room full of bleary-eyed legislative leaders and cabinet secretaries just after the 60-day session ended, by law, at noon.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said late Saturday she was packing to come home, and while she’s not crazy about returning to Santa Fe, she said she will when she gets official word.

“We were on the floor till 3:30 a.m. (Saturday) and didn’t have to be back until 8 a.m.,” Crook said. “I keep hoping he’ll (Richardson) have a moment and change his mind.”

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who represents Clovis and Portales, was also less than thrilled by the thought of a special session.

“I think that obviously we didn’t do all the work before us,” said Kernan. “But I thought we had done a pretty good job.”

Richardson laid out a broad agenda for the session, and the Legislature went along with most of it.

Lawmakers voted to raise the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.50 by January 2009.

The Legislature approved a $5.6 billion state budget, $700 million in capital projects, medical marijuana legalization, a statewide smoking ban, surface owners protection from oil and gas drilling, payday lending restrictions, a lottery scholarship funding fix, a cockfighting ban, and an ethics measure limiting gifts to state officials.

Also endorsed was more than $80 million in tax cuts for businesses and individuals. They include tax breaks targeted to health care providers, renewable energy projects and economic development initiatives.

Kernan was upbeat about what was accomplished, saying the smoking and cockfighting bans and the minimum wage bill were important to eastern New Mexico.

“One thing I’m very pleased about is the capital outlay (junior budget) that the governor vetoed last year is coming back to the area,” Kernan said.

Crook also felt good about lawmakers’ accomplishments, agreeing that the junior budget was one of the bright spots for her constituents.

“Depending on what seat you were in, there were some pretty positive things,” Crook said. “One of the Legislative Council staff told me this is the first time in 25 years they’ve been able to get the budget up like this.”

Several of the governor’s proposals, however, died when the session ended — chief among them a $200 million-plus funding package for local and tribal road projects.

The legislation is dubbed GRIP 2, for Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership. The first GRIP was a $1.6 billion highway and transportation package enacted in 2003.
GRIP 2 had passed the House and was on the Senate’s agenda, but opponents thwarted discussion of it Saturday.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, complained he thought there was an understanding the Senate would pass the bill.

“We felt comfortable that GRIP 2 would get done,” said Lujan, who stressed its importance to local communities.

But some lawmakers, Kernan among them, are reluctant to start another road program when rising construction costs means there’s already a shortfall and delays in GRIP 1.

Limits on campaign contributions, the creation of an independent ethics commission and expanded public financing of campaigns also died with the session.

The domestic partnership bill — which died in the Senate — would have allowed heterosexual or homosexual couples to register their domestic partnerships with county clerks, securing all the rights of married couples.

Richardson also wants legislators to pass tougher domestic violence penalties, create registries of convicted drug dealers and meth-impacted properties and create an office of water infrastructure.