By State Rep. Candy Ezzell
The State of New Mexico is in the middle of the worst fiscal crisis we have experienced since statehood. A $2.4 billion budget shortfall coupled with lost jobs for more than 100,000 wage earners and the closure of hundreds of small businesses, many of which will never open again. We are encountering an economic disaster that will plague our state for years to come.
Our sole focus during the upcoming special session must be on fixing our budget problems and providing financial relief to thousands of desperate New Mexicans. Republicans have been requesting a special session since April, as the economic problems facing our state deserved attention months ago. However, just days before the special session is set to begin, we are told the governor and the speaker of the house want to rush through legislation to limit liability protection for law enforcement officers, and retool our election laws just months before the November election.
These two issues should take days, if not weeks, to review and debate, and they need be referred to multiple legislative committees to be properly vetted and amended. These are massive pieces of legislation with major consequences to every single New Mexican, and rushing them through a special session is no way to ensure that changes in the law are fair and proper.
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Not only are we going to be “vetting” complicated bills in a single committee, we are going to do so without our normal expert analysts to review them, and without any real public participation in the legislative process! We have two analysts for the special session, experts in budget, tax and finance matters. Those are the issues that need to be addressed. We do not have the time or the money needed to recruit experts on election and criminal justice legislation.
In a regular session, members of the public can show up at multiple committee hearings, speak passionately about an issue, and do their best to sway members one way or another on bills that have been published for weeks on the legislative website. That process is not going to happen during this special session.
If the public wants to participate, they must go online, log in to the Legislature’s website, and send an email to whatever legislative hearing is of interest. Maybe your comments will be read by the committee chairman or maybe not. The public will lose their historic right to be able to participate in the legislative process.
The traditional legislative procedures call for bills to be moved through two or three committees to ensure your elected representatives (and our analysts) with varied expertise can have input on these provisions. But, the speaker has unilaterally decided that the traditional process will not be followed as he has pledged to send all bills to only one committee before being pushed to the floor with ridiculously little vetting. This is no way to address these serious issues!
On top of all this, the speaker is changing the rules that will literally allow legislators to “phone it in” from the comfort of their homes. That’s right, legislators will be able to vote for these bills in their pajamas.
Let’s sum up — we are going to hold a special session without the public being involved; letting legislators work from home; limit the amount of time and number of committees and experts to review highly controversial issues that will be passed without bipartisan agreement. This is governing at its most cynical and is an insult to every New Mexican.
New Mexico Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, is Republican Caucus Chair. The views expressed are those of the author.