By Sen. BILL O’NEILL
SANTA FE ― The 2015 legislative session has adjourned, giving ample time to reflect on both its disappointments and accomplishments.
Certainly, the inability to pass our much-needed $264 million capital outlay bill was disheartening to say the least. Included in the capital outlay bill were vital improvements for senior centers, public school buildings, public libraries, museums, health centers, etc.
Following the usual procedure, the Senate sent a unanimously approved bill to the House with plenty of time for it to be amended and sent back to us for final approval.
Unfortunately, the Republican-led House did nothing for several days and then at the last minute stripped $77 million of these vital projects from the bipartisan bill, sending back their final product with less than 20 minutes remaining in the session. All of this gamesmanship resulted in no capital outlay funds for the state.
This goes beyond traditional political maneuvering, and after seven years as a state legislator, in both the House and the Senate, I have never seen anything like it. There is no plausible reason why both chambers could not pass the capital outlay bill, as we were able to do with the $6.2 billion state budget. The only thing that makes sense at this point would be a special session to rectify this disservice to our taxpayer constituents.
On the positive side, many substantial bills were passed into law. A few examples include:
- Senate Bill 42 (Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque) now allows state inmates to apply for Medicaid so when released they are immediately eligible for vital behavioral health services that can keep them from re-offending.
- House Bill 560 (Representative Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso) will essentially stop the emerging practice of “policing for profit” and has already received national attention.
- Senate Bill 381 (Senator Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque) establishes the Carlos Vigil Memorial Commission to allocate funding throughout the state for programs that combat bullying.
- House Bill 341 (Representative Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque) provides a loan repayment program for CYFD social workers.
Gov. Susana Martinez deserves credit for signing all of the above, definitely. And for signing numerous other important bills not listed above. But, what about her vetoes? Granted, it is certainly her prerogative as governor to use the veto pen. But if we Senate Democrats are going to be called “obstructionists” by her camp – that we are somehow standing in the way of effective bipartisan legislation – let us just consider some recent casualties of her veto pen:
- Senate Bill 94 (Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque), Industrial Hemp Farming Act, passed by wide margins in both chambers, and has been a widely praised economic development initiative.
- House Bill 122 (Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces) Scope Of Practice Act, passed 66-0 in the House, 37-0 in the Senate, and would have provided intelligent oversight for the increasing turf wars transpiring between traditional and nontraditional medical practitioners.
- House Bill 332 (Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque) Reduce Probation Time For Good Behavior Act, passed 63-0 in the House, 39-0 in the Senate.
- Senate Bill 115 (Senator Steven Neville, R-Aztec) Substitute Care Review Board, passed 66-1 in the House, 38-0 in the Senate, and would provide for better structure of review boards that handle child abuse cases in the state.
The war of “messaging” unfortunately characterizes our current political landscape, and the governor has a bullhorn to tout her message while legislators have the equivalent of an iffy car speaker that maybe works on a good day. She can especially single out Senate Democrats as “obstructionists” for not complying with her often divisive legislative strategies – third-grade retention, (immigrant) driver’s licenses, and now this failure of a capital outlay bill.
This is politics, and I recognize that. We have honest partisan philosophical differences that we respect as state legislators, in both chambers. But when legislators come together with these stunning unanimous votes, who is being the “obstructionist” here? The Legislature? Senate Democrats? Seriously?
There is that saying about “when one points a finger, there are three fingers pointing back.” I would suggest that this might aptly summarize our governor’s recent accusations.