Guest Editorial: Short session with long agenda

Las Cruces Sun News
Jan. 3
Guest Editorial

The upcoming session for the New Mexico Legislature may be of the 30-day variety, but that does not mean lawmakers should put off critical decisions for another year.

The New Mexico Constitution calls for lawmakers to meet in alternating 30-day and 60-day sessions. During 60-day sessions, held in odd-numbered years, lawmakers are free to introduce an unlimited number of bills on any subject of their choosing. But 30-day sessions, such as the one scheduled to start Jan. 19, are limited to budget issues. Any issue not dealing directly with the budget has to be approved by the governor before it can be debated and voted on.

Given the number of issues demanding attention this year, we encourage the governor to be expansive as she is drawing up the agenda for this session.

Reform of the state’s driver’s license law to bring it into compliance with federal REAL ID Act requirements should top the list. Homeland Security has refused the state’s request for an extension. That means other methods of identification may be needed to enter federal facilities, and state driver’s licenses potentially will no longer qualify as ID to board an airplane in the coming year.

The state’s congressional delegation, minus U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, has won assurances that the feds will delay enforcement if there is an agreement in place between the governor and the Legislature to reform the law. But thus far, no agreement is apparent.

We continue to believe a two-tiered approach, similar to legislation passed in the Senate last year, is the best approach. That would allow immigrants in the country illegally to still be able to drive to work, take their kids to school or make sure an elderly relative gets to their doctor’s appointment. But the licenses would not qualify as federal ID. It is a compromise that has worked in other states and would work here.

We also expect a number of ethics laws to be introduced in response to the arrest and conviction of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran on public corruption charges. New Mexico’s weak campaign reporting laws and nonexistent enforcement allowed Duran to convert campaign contributions to her personal use for years before a tip led to her exposure.

The state needs to tighten campaign reporting disclosure laws and enforcement. Also, the creation of an independent ethics commission would provide for a professional, nonpartisan body to investigate public claims of corruption.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros has prefiled legislation to reform the state’s inefficient capital outlay system. While that may not seem as important as some other bills, wasteful spending of millions of dollars over the years have prevented New Mexico from being able to systematically address needs for critical items like water infrastructure and state highways.

Martinez has proposed legislation to reduce the school dropout rate by, among other things, preventing habitually truant students from getting a driver’s license. She is also calling measures to crack down on drunken driving. We note all of governor’s proposals on this issue take the same approach – longer jail sentences. There is no mention of treatment opportunities. That is the same mistake Bill Richardson made in his attempts to reduce drunken driving. If we could jail our way out of this problem, we would have already done so.

Those are just a few items on the to-do list. Preparing a sensible budget that addresses our needs is the top priority, but the job does not end there.