Wasting time or paying tribute?
It would be wrong to call the current gathering of lawmakers a “do-nothing” session. After all, this is the “rocket docket” session, in which more than 40 bills — which in previous years, won unanimous or near-unanimous support from lawmakers of both parties but were vetoed or pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez — zipped through the House and Senate and were signed into law by new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Even beyond those bills, this session seems more fast-paced than usual.
However, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know there is still plenty of good opportunities for time-wasting at the Roundhouse. There are still plenty of memorials — nonbinding legislation — honoring high school sports teams, prominent people who have died, various cities and counties in New Mexico, and ethnic groups.
While most memorials could be described as “feel-good” measures, a good number of them deal with diseases and other medical conditions: multiple sclerosis, autism, cancer, eating disorders, ALS, etc.
So far this year, lawmakers have gone on record in favor of Amtrak, the oil and gas industry, board-certified teachers, the spaceport, Future Farmers of America, uranium workers, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Boy Scouts, school boards, mediation for the elder population, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the film industry.
The House and/or Senate have declared New Mexico Athletic Trainer Day, Soil and Water Conservation District Day, Dolores Huerta Day, Wear Red Day (that’s not a political thing; it’s for the American Heart Association), New Mexico Small Business Development Day, and nearly enough other special days to fill a calendar. If it were up to me (spoiler alert: it’s not), I would prohibit the Legislature from naming new days — unless they involve paid holidays for all of us.
I’m hardly the only one who has complained about memorials eating up time in the Legislature. Martinez famously complained about the practice — as well as regular bills to name the official state hamburger or official state holiday song — a couple of years ago. And a few years before that, Rep. Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, introduced a memorial — which received a lot more laughs than votes — calling for a second legislative session that year just to handle memorials.
Some lawmakers defend the practice, saying memorials help build camaraderie among members and allow lawmakers to blow off steam.
Some make the point that the House and Senate frequently take up nonbinding memorials during a floor session because something has caused a delay in hearing a particular bill.
And sometimes, memorials request a state agency to conduct a study on some matter.
Former Rep. Bill McCamley, a Las Cruces Democrat who now is secretary of the Workforce Solutions Department, told me last year that memorials that honor a person or group for some accomplishment have value. “It really makes somebody’s day,” he said. “To have a piece of paper signed by everyone for some accomplishment may not be important for us, but it’s important to them.”
That’s true. But it’s little consolation when there’s not enough time for the Legislature to pass a bill that’s important to huge numbers of people.
As of Thursday, House members had introduced 70 regular memorials and 14 joint memorials (which have to pass both the House and Senate).
But House members are memorial pikers compared with the Senate, where members have introduced 105 memorials and 19 joint memorials. Funny thing is, there are far fewer senators (42) than House members (70). That means in the House, there are 1.2 memorials (including joint memorials) per member, while there are more than 2.9 per senator.
So far, the House has passed 27 memorials and 10 joint memorials. The Senate has passed 45 memorials but just three joint memorials. Three joint memorials successfully made it through both chambers.
How do these numbers stack up against previous sessions? In 2017, the most recent 60-day session, the House passed 95 memorials and 14 joint memorials, while the Senate passed 110 memorials and 24 joint memorials. Unless there is an explosion of memorials being debating in the next two weeks, there’s a good chance that this Legislature will fall short.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?