Despite frigid weather, residents fill Fuller Lodge for Thursday’s annual legislative preview. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
LAHS Debate Team members Angela Feng, left, and Rory Cooley serve as timekeepers at Thursday’s event. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Chamber Manager Nancy Partridge, right, listens to lawmakers discuss the 2016 legislative session. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
With challenges such as falling oil and gas prices and the controversy swirling around the Real ID Act, the 2016 Legislative Session is expected to be a tough one.
Dist. 43 Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, Senators Carlos Cisneros and Richard Martinez as well as Kristina Fisher of Think New Mexico and former Sen. Dede Feldman shared their priorities and expectations for the upcoming 30-day session during the annual legislative preview co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women Thursday evening at Fuller Lodge.
“I anticipate a brutal session,” Garcia Richard said of the session, which begins Jan. 19 at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.
The objective of the session is to pass a budget. It will be a tough task to do with the falling prices of oil and gas, the state’s major source of revenue. Garcia Richard explained that lawmakers originally projected the state would receive $295 million in new money from oil and gas but with prices falling, that figure was been reduced.
As a result, “We have a lot of needs and not a lot of resources to meet those needs,” she said.
Cisneros echoed Garcia Richard’s statement. The price of oil, he said, “is crucial to our budget formation.”
Cisneros explained the $295 million in new money was projected in August; the projection dropped to $232 million in December. The reason, he said, was because the price of oil continues to drop.
Despite the obstacles facing the state, the three lawmakers discussed several bills they plan to introduce during the session.
In response to New Mexico not getting waived from the Real ID Act standards, which means driver licenses would not be accepted for certain purposes at federal agencies. Since this would include accessing federal facilities, power plants or federally regulated commercial aircraft, Garcia Richard proposes a Real ID identification card, which would comply with the Act. It would be issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles and would be valid for as long as a driver’s license.
One of the bills Cisneros drafted is a general obligation bill, which would appropriate $130 million for capital projects across the state. This includes money for the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, he said.
Martinez said one of his bills seeks to assist veterans. The bill would appropriate $1 million to revitalize veterans’ homes. He said the bill would support veterans who were honorably discharged and have low income. The money would go toward fixing structural damages and appliances in their homes.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of veterans,” he said.
Lawmakers are not the only ones gearing up for the session. Fisher of Think New Mexico, which is an independent, non-partisan think tank, said its focus during the legislative session will be improving the state’s process for funding capital projects – particularly infrastructure.
“This system has some issues that need to be addressed,” Fisher said. She explained although the state puts a lot of money toward infrastructure, it doesn’t go as far as it should. Plus, urgent priorities are not getting done and funding is handled in a piece meal fashion. Also, the whole process is not very transparent until its very end.
Fisher said Think New Mexico is lobbying for the state to mold its funding process for capital projects similar to its process for improving school facilities. An oversight committee should be formed, objectives and criteria should be set, projects should be prioritized and a plan made, she said.
Despite the challenges the state faces in its upcoming session, Feldman assured the audience that they are in good hands. Pointing to the three legislators who attended the event, she said, “Three of the finest are right here. You are very lucky.”
From right, Kristina Fisher of Think New Mexico and former Sen. Dede Feldman. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard lets the audience know the 2016 session will be a difficult one.
Sen. Carlos Cisneros tells the audience he is running for re-election and will be circulating a petition to get on the ballot. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Sen. Richard Martinez speaks of the importance of helping veterans. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
LWVLA member Jody Benson addresses lawmakers during the Q and A portion of Thursday’s meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos attorney George Chandler questions lawmakers. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
County Councilor Pete Sheehey speaks to lawmakers. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
From left, Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, Sen. Carlos Cisneros and Sen. Richard Martinez. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard confers with Sen. Carlos Cisneros. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
From left, LWVLA member Kyle Wheeler, Kristina Fisher of Think New Mexico, Lynne Jones and Judy Prono of the AAUW. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Audience members participate during the Q and A portion of Thursday’s event. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com