In every legislative session, there are bills with a purpose (whether you agree with it or not) and bills I call noise – the political incendiaries, intended more for show and campaigns. Chances are slim to none that they'll pass, but lawmakers will burn a lot of time better spent on bigger problems.
One four-year-old noisemaker is the governor's driver's license bill, but this year the Democrats have lobbed their own noisemakers.
Topping the list is Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino's marijuana initiative. The Albuquerque Democrat has pre-introduced a joint resolution seeking a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide the legalization of pot.
Speaking last week to New Mexico Press Women, Ortiz y Pino said, "It's a justice issue. We have forgotten the lesson learned from Prohibition." He reasons that, if the bill succeeds, it wouldn't go before voters until next November. After that, the Legislature would have to craft a bill.
The problem is lawmakers, not to mention the public, are nowhere near agreement on the issue, so we're looking at hours of debate during a short session, when we can't afford the time. And, while I can't disagree with proponents that our war on drugs has been a bust, I think New Mexico could stand to watch Colorado plow new ground before jumping in.
A bill to eliminate the post of Secretary of Education and return to the old state school board is noise. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, wants a constitutional amendment to that effect.
Padilla argues that because the education secretary carries water for the governor, we could see a drastic shift in doctrine with every change in governor. He says this isn't about Secretary Hanna Skandera, but I have a feeling it is about Skandera. Otherwise the proposal would have surfaced before.
Padilla and everybody else who thinks this is a good idea should refresh their memories. The board could be political to extremes and at times was dominated – or manipulated – by one member. And there was no accountability, which was why an education secretary was part of the school reforms in 2003.
In 2006, a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation applauded Gov. Bill Richardson's move to replace the state board of education with a cabinet secretary who answers to him: "It was a bold move that let the state's leaders and citizens know that education was a priority."
A third noisy constitutional amendment proposal would ban same-sex marriages in New Mexico. Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, is responding to the recent Supreme Court decision. This issue has been aired and debated, and most New Mexicans are tired of hearing about it. It says something that a lengthy list of New Mexico clergy published a full-page ad back in October to support the freedom to marry. Even the governor has said it's time to move on.
A fourth burst of racket isn't partisan. The New Mexico Municipal League wants to reinstate the gross receipts tax on food. The league and economist Brian McDonald have argued that removing the tax didn't benefit the poor in the way everyone expected. More to the point, it dented budgets for municipalities already struggling to maintain services.
Let me state the obvious, that the governor is adamantly opposed, and the governor and representatives are up for re-election next year. Who wants to step forward and support a food tax? There will be other fixes in the hopper this year, and lawmakers need to kindly remember local governments.
This year's session promises plenty of flash and bang just in the questions that must be resolved. I hope lawmakers can dispense with the noisemakers early and quickly and not exercise their lungs (trial lawyers, are you listening?) on bills that don't stand a chance.