Legislature got a little accomplished

By Tom McDonald

State columnist

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald

It’s no secret this year’s legislative session was pathetically unproductive; on the day of adjournment, lawmakers couldn’t even pass the capital outlay bill.

But it was an Albuquerque Journal report by Dan Boyd that quantified it: Of 1,365 bills introduced, only 191 made it to the governor’s desk for signing.
The Journal also charted the number of bills passed during 60-day sessions as far back as 1995, when 424 bills were passed. Since then, over the ensuing 20 years, 2003 saw the most passed, with 523 bills, while the low point, up until this year, was 284 in 2011. This year’s 191 bills, according to the Journal, is the least amount passed in 66 years.

But let’s take a look at what did in fact get accomplished. Here are a few bills, relevant to the smaller communities of New Mexico, that passed both chambers and now await Gov. Susana Martinez’s signature to become law:

• Yes, they did their constitutional duty: Lawmakers passed a $6.2 billion budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which begins in July. That includes $2.7 billion for education and pay raises for teachers around the state, as well as money for more than 100 water projects around the state.

• Hospital transparency: Beginning next year, hospitals in New Mexico will have to post their prices for common health care procedures on a website New Mexicans can use to compare prices. Plus, quality-of-care indicators will be posted, giving health care consumers the ability to not just compare prices but quality as well.

• Expanding voter registration access: If signed by the governor, the Secretary of State’s Office will have marching orders to create a process by which New Mexicans can register to vote online.

• Local taxing: Also awaiting Martinez’s signature is legislation that gives all 33 counties the choice of increasing gasoline and diesel taxes by up to 2 cents a gallon to fund road projects.

• Legalizing hemp, sort of: A bill was passed to allow for industrial hemp to be grown on a limited basis for commercial and for research-and-development purposes, opening up the possibility that the non-potent cousin of marijuana will someday become a whole new cash crop for New Mexico growers.

• Kicking up dust: If a county road has no posted speed limit, it will soon be 55 mph, thanks to legislation passed this session.

• A matter of convenience: Senate Bill 114, passed in both chambers, will allow property owners to pay their delinquent taxes locally instead of having to send their payments directly to the state.

• Wholesale fermentation: Another Senate Bill was passed to allow breweries and wineries with a license to dispense their product as a retail product to expand their operations with a wholesaler’s license as well.

• Keeping up with modern times: Lawmakers voted to create the crime of “revenge porn” in an effort to deter the unauthorized posting of sensitive images of others on the Internet; outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to minors; and, in an age when defibrillators are far more common in public places, limit liability for those who use defibrillators in an effort to resuscitate someone.

The governor has until April 10 to act on legislation sent to her during the latter part of the session.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com