By Jo Mixon
The 52nd Legislature of the state of New Mexico, 60 day Session, convened in Santa Fe, on January 20, 2015. As your representative of the Angel Fire Chamber of Commerce (and because I find it helpful and interesting) I spend many hours reading and researching bills and legislation. I attend the New Mexico Chamber Executives Association for a three day legislative conference, listening to secretaries of state and deciding, with other state chamber executives, which bills and budget requests we as the collective chambers of commerces and our thousands of business members, will back or oppose at legislation. I work closely with our Board of Directors in making our final decision.
This year at NMCEA conference, we were honored to hear from Keith Gardner, Chief of Staff Office of Governor Susana Martinez; Secretary Jon Barela, NM Economic Development Department; Cabinet Secretary Tom Clifford, NM Department of Finance and Administration; Secretary Brent Earnest, NM Human Services Department; Secretary Hannah Skandera, NM Public Education Department; Secretary Rebecca Latham, NM Tourism Department; and Secretary Tom Church, Department of NM Transportation.
Plus Steve Maestas, NAI Maestas & Ward gave a presentation on the “Closing Fund” (LEDA), Quinn Lopez, Vice President & General Counsel of NM Mutual, discussed Worker’s Compensation, and David Buchholtz, Rodney Law Firm, led a discussion on “Right-to-Work”.
During the remainder of the 60 day session Angel Fire will be well represented. Michael Turri, Chamber President; Rogers Lanon, Chamber Past President/Angel Fire Village Councilor; Michael Dean, Chamber Board Director; Johnese Turri, Chamber Ambassador Team Leader; Mayor Barbara Cottam; Mayor Pro-Tem Chuck Howe, Village Councilor Brinn Colenda; Village Manager, Rick Tafoya; Jimmy Linton, Visitor Center/Tourism Manager and myself are scheduled to attend various different activities, receptions, and conferences. (Please note, anyone who wants to get involved is always welcome to join us!)
I thought I would share the following. It is a bit lengthy but if you are interested, it is “the short version” of how a bill becomes law. During legislative session, I receive the daily Albuquerque Chamber Legislative Round-up. This is their easy to understand explanation:
THERE ARE COMMITTEES AND THEN THERE ARE COMMITTEES – AND HOW A BILL BECOMES LAW, THE SHORT VERSION
Standing And Interim Committees
Which is which and what are they for? While the Legislature is in session, committees are appointed to consider the bills introduced and recommend whether they should be passed, passed as amended, do not pass or be laid on the table. Both the House and Senate have standing committees that are generally organized around subject matters. For example, the House Business and Employment and the Senate Corporations committees handle legislation related to business practices and are closely monitored by the Chamber.
When the Legislature is not in session, that period of time is referred to as the interim. Joint interim committees, consisting of both House and Senate members, are appointed for two fundamental purposes: first, to oversee operations of government agencies and, second, to consider issues that may require legislation in the next session and to sponsor such legislation. Interim committees have more time to consider issues than do standing committees that are flooded with legislative proposals while the Legislature is in session.
Standing Committees – Policy and Fiscal
Since we are in a legislative session, let’s look a little more closely at the standing committees. Essentially, there are two kinds: policy and fiscal. Bills usually are referred to at least two committees and frequently three.
Policy committees deal with the substance of what’s being proposed. For example, let’s say there’s a bill introduced in the House seeking to require stricter regulation of horse drawn buggies and the State Police are being directed to enforce the new regulations. The policy questions are whether horse drawn buggies need stricter regulation and whether the State Police is the proper enforcement agency. The fiscal questions are how much is it going to cost, is the cost worth it and how does that expenditure stack up against other needs in the state.
Expect this bill to get referred to at least one policy committee (let’s say the committee dealing with business matters) and the fiscal committee (in the House, that’s House Appropriations and Finance and in the Senate, Senate Finance). However, since we’re dealing with horses, the committee that deals with agriculture also wants to examine the bill. So, this bill gets three committee referrals. (If the bill had no fiscal impact, it wouldn’t be referred to a fiscal committee). In the House, the Speaker determines to which committees a bill is referred. In the Senate, the Majority Floor Leader makes the assignments.
Committees At Work
Generally speaking, legislative committees do the heavy lifting. In the committees, bills are examined in detail and attempts are made to resolve problems or to find a middle ground among all the parties that are interested in the bill, often with some parties in support and others in opposition.
Before A Bill Is Heard
Before a bill is actually heard in a committee, different staffs analyze the bill. The Legislative Finance Committee staff looks at the fiscal impact and issues a “Fiscal Impact Report” or (FIR). Committee and partisan staffs analyze the bill. State agencies and lobbyists examine the bill. Committee members are “lobbied” on the bill, each interest expressing its support or opposition, and perhaps, offering amendments to make the bill acceptable to them.
Set For Hearing
At last, the bill is “set” for hearing on a certain date. Each committee produces an agenda identifying which bills are to be considered that day. The order in which the bills are heard may be different than the way they’re listed on the agenda. The sponsor of the legislation (Representative or Senator) “puts the bill on,” i.e. explains the bill to the committee. Often one or more expert witnesses accompany the sponsor and may present testimony or answer questions.
Hearing From All Parties
After the sponsor has presented, depending on the Committee Chair’s method of operating, questions from committee members may ensue or the Chair may ask whether there is any support or opposition to the bill. Lobbyists and citizens attending the hearing will then raise their hands and the Chair will call on them. If there are many wishing to testify, the Chair may limit the number speaking for or against in the interest of time.
After all the points of view have been heard and questions of the committee members answered, the sponsor may conclude testimony. The chair will then ask what is the pleasure of the committee. At this point a motion is made to pass, to amend, to do not pass or to lie on the table.
If amendments are proposed (and the sponsor may propose amendments to his or her own bill), then the amendments are dealt with first. Each amendment is voted on separately by either voice or roll call vote. The committee secretary is responsible for recording votes and keeping track of amendments considered.
The Legislative Council Service must draft amendments so they are presented in the correct form. If an amendment is adopted that is not available in the correct form, the sponsor of the bill will agree to have the amendment prepared correctly, thus ensuring that the bill is properly amended before being considered by the next committee or the legislative body itself.
Once all amendments are considered and acted upon, the bill is ready for final consideration. A member of the committee will then make a motion and the motion is then voted upon either by voice or roll call vote. Sometimes, bills are “held over” until a subsequent hearing in order to allow time for the sponsor to meet with interested parties to see if problems can be resolved. Also, fiscal committees may hold bills until the budget picture becomes clear.
On The Floor
If the bill survives the gauntlet of committees, it is then considered on the floor of the house in which it originates where it can pass as amended (assuming there were amendments), be further amended or defeated. Our horse drawn buggy regulation bill has passed all three committees with no amendments and has been passed by the House.
Off To Committees Again
When the Senate receives our bill, it is referred to three committees, and it is amended in a Senate Committee but reaches the floor of the Senate.
To The Senate
The Senate has the same options as the House. They can pass the bill as now amended, add further amendments or defeat the bill. The Senate simply passes our bill as amended. Whew, now the Governor can sign it into law, right?
Not So Fast
Before the Governor can receive a bill from the Legislature, both houses must agree on identically the same bill. Our bill was amended in the Senate, so the version the House approved is not the same as the Senate approved – back to the House.
Concurrence In Amendments
The House is now asked whether it agrees with the Senate version of the bill. If it does, it is said to have concurred in amendments. If it refuses to concur, the bill is sent back to the Senate, which can either withdraw its amendments or notify the house that a “conference committee” needs to be appointed to work out the differences.
Our bill gets concurrence in amendments and is off to the Governor for her decision to sign or veto (please Governor, sign it, we really need to crack down on these horse drawn buggies).
And, that’s the short version of what committees do and how a bill works its way through the legislative process to the Governor’s desk.