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Working faster and smarter adds up to results

January 22, 2019

Setting in place a “rocket docket” this legislative session offers lawmakers a chance to concentrate on new problems rather than retracing the same old ground. By fast-tracking legislation that was vetoed in the past, the Legislature will be making good on its promise to work smarter this session, eventually delivering bills to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a more timely fashion.

That is, so long as the Democratic majority does not overreach, whether by including too complex or overly controversial legislation, or by ignoring all objections from GOP lawmakers, who have not warmed up to the idea from Democratic leaders. They have reasonable objections, primarily that the many new legislators deserve a right to be heard more fully. With the rocket docket, the idea is to move bills faster, because so much debate already has occurred.

Normally, legislation is introduced in the House or Senate, heard in committee — then debated in another and perhaps another committee; referrals for too many committees generally are the kiss of death. Bills that make it out of committee head to the floor for further debate and a vote. Laws that pass through a chamber head over to the other, where the entire process starts again. Legislation agreed upon by both the House and Senate goes to the desk of the governor, who either signs or vetoes.

A cumbersome process, and that is as it should be. Lawmaking is serious business.

However, given the last governor’s propensity for vetoing bills on what seemed like whims, much legislation that had received broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats in past sessions went to her desk to die. She even vetoed bills her administration backed. Why? It’s anyone’s guess. Such unpredictable actions set aside a lot of sensible, bipartisan work and create additional work for lawmakers who follow such an unpredictable executive.

The traditional process would require starting from scratch. We can’t afford to waste so much time. Right now, lawmakers need to reform New Mexico’s tax system, decide how to fund early childhood education, direct more educational dollars to at-risk young people, repair broken climate policy, consider legalization of marijuana, confirm Cabinet secretaries and university regents, and on and on and on and on.

What the rocket docket will do, without ending necessary scrutiny of potential laws, is to send bills to one committee. That’s it. Then, if the bills pass both houses of the Legislature, Lujan Grisham could have them on her desk in a week or so. (To look at legislation being fast-tracked, go to www.nmlegis.gov and click on the Early Track Legislation button.)

The bills cover a wide range of topics, such things as forcing lobbyists to file more detailed expense reports to legislation that would allow lay midwives access to certain medications. Others deal with helping schools handle students with diabetes or consider the qualifications for traditional historic communities. All received wide support during past sessions.

During a session when so much work must be done quickly, fast-tracking legislation that already has been debated and approved does not seem a dereliction of duty. Citizens who want changes to these bills or who oppose them altogether still have an opportunity to speak. Lawmakers who want to make changes can do so. The process is not upended, just compressed.

And if enough legislators have concerns — and not just legislators, but citizens — bills can and should be taken off the fast track. We’re sure, for example, that other media outlets will have plenty of questions about bills such as Senate Bill 118, or “Protect Confidentiality of Crime Victims,” that might be well-intentioned but has the effect of limiting public information. That’s seldom the right approach.

Still, we give credit to lawmakers. They are trying to do more during a session. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, Speaker Brian Egolf and other legislative leaders — even GOP House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, who has concerns — deserve credit for developing a system to move certain bills more quickly. Saving valuable time to debate necessary legislation decreases the likelihood that time will run out before important work is completed. Voters want lawmakers to set priorities. The rocket docket system will help them do just that.

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