SANTA FE (AP) - The Associated Press has prepared an overview of the New MexicoLegislature, how the 30-day session convening Jan. 19 will operateand what to expect in terms of issues and debates.
The New Mexico Legislature at a glance:
THE START: The 2010 Legislature convenes at noon on Tuesday,Jan. 19. It's formally called the second session of the 49thLegislature.
THE FINISH: The session, as required by the state Constitution,adjourns after 30 calendar days - at noon on Thursday, Feb. 18. Thegovernor has 20 days after adjournment to sign bills passed duringthe last three days of the session. That deadline is March 10.
THE MAKEUP: The Senate has 42 members: 27 Democrats, 15Republicans. The House has 70 members: 45 Democrats, 25Republicans.
PAY: The New Mexico Legislature is not salaried. Members receive$159 a day during the session to reimburse them for expenses.
THE AGENDA: During 30-day sessions, the agenda is limited to thebudget, tax and financial matters as well as issues the governorasks the Legislature to consider. Among the proposals by DemocraticGov. Bill Richardson are domestic partnerships for same-sexcouples, ethics reforms and tougher drunken driving penalties.
There were 1,226 bills introduced in 2008, the most recent30-day session. Of those bills, 93 were signed into law.
POLITICS: This is Richardson's final year in office. He'sterm-limited and can't seek re-election this year. All House seatsare up for election. Senate terms run through 2012.
LEARNING MORE: Contact lawmakers by calling the legislativeswitchboard: (505) 986-4300. Find bills, committee schedules, listsof members and a link for webcasts of House and Senate floorproceedings on the Legislature's Web Site .
Highlights of tax issues before the Legislature:
BACKDROP: The state is looking for new revenues to shore up thebudget next year. Since 2003, when Gov. Bill Richardson tookoffice, taxes have been cut about $900 million, according to theLegislative Finance Committee. That includes income tax ratereductions and lifting the sales tax on food. Taxes and fees havegone up about $390 million, including gross receipts, cigarette andfuels taxes as well as vehicle registration fees.
PROPOSALS: A business group suggests reinstating the tax onfood, which could raise $228 million. Gov. Bill Richardson says heis "not terribly excited" about that because he supported removalof the food tax. But he would consider imposing the sales tax onsoft drinks and candy, both of which are treated as food. Thatwould provide $18 million. Expect all sorts of proposals toincrease personal and corporate income taxes, gross receipts taxesand levies on tobacco and alcohol.
OUTLOOK: Richardson opposes repealing the income and capitalgains reductions he championed in 2003 and will fight efforts toroll back business incentives, such as a credit for filmproduction. Those won't happen unless the Legislature takes a firmstand and forces the governor to retreat. The odds are againstthat. Gross receipts taxes could be a tempting target. A half-centincrease would generate $240 million.
Highlights of budget issues before theLegislature:
BACKDROP: The state faces a budget gap of $600 million nextyear. The government is spending $5.7 billion this year, including$400 million in federal aid that helped balance the budget whenstate revenues plummeted. New Mexico expects to collect $5.1billion in state revenues next year. Because of the recession andlower energy prices, revenues dropped 20 percent from 2008 to thisyear. Spending declined 5 percent in that period, with federal aidpreventing deeper cutbacks.
PROPOSALS: Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislative FinanceCommittee have recommended cuts of 3 percent to 5 percent in nextyear's budget. Reducing salaries for public employees is an option.Tax increases will be considered to bring in more revenues. Federalaid will continue to shore up the budget, providing from $100million to $200 million. Without the federal money, more cuts orhigher taxes will be necessary.
OUTLOOK: A fight looms over the governor's proposal to cancel$150 million in capital improvement projects to free up money andreplenish the state's cash reserves. Expect a tug-of-war betweenthe House and the more conservative Senate over whether to increasetaxes rather than making deeper budget cuts. A critical decision ishow much to reduce spending on the largest programs: education andMedicaid, which provides health care to the needy.
The expected debate in the Legislature over domesticpartnerships:
BACKDROP: Gov. Bill Richardson has unsuccessfully advocated forseveral years to allow domestic partnerships for unmarried couples.The proposal ignites an emotional debate over same-sex marriage.The legislation failed in the Senate last year. Ten Democraticsenators joined Republicans in opposing the measure.
PROPOSALS: The legislation is intended to extend the legalprotections and benefits of marriage to unmarried couples,regardless of gender. That includes responsibilities such as childsupport and medical decision-making and issues such as insurancecoverage and adoption. Proponents say gay couples aren't the onlyones who would benefit. Elderly opposite-sex couples may livetogether but decide against marriage. Opponents are pushing for aconstitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man andwoman.
OUTLOOK: The battleground is in the Senate, which is moreconservative than the House. The New Mexico Conference of CatholicBishops opposed domestic partnerships last year and that was afactor in the bill's defeat. If the bishops continue to standagainst the proposal, it likely will fail.
Highlights of ethics issues before theLegislature:
BACKDROP: Corruption scandals have plagued New Mexico in recentyears. Two former state treasurers and a former Senate leader wentto federal prison. A grand jury is investigating possiblewrongdoing in public investments. Charges have been filed against aformer secretary of state for alleged misuse of federal electionmoney. A former legislator who ran a regional housing agency hasbeen indicted on fraud charges.
PROPOSALS: Gov. Bill Richardson and legislators suggest creatingan independent commission to investigate allegations of ethicalmisconduct. Similar bills have failed in the past because ofdisagreements over who appoints commission members and its topstaff. Other proposals: Banning campaign contributions from statecontractors and lobbyists; prohibiting legislators from being paidlobbyists for a year after they leave office; and stoppingretaliation against workers who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
OUTLOOK: Another dispute that could derail the ethics commissionis whether all branches of government should be subject to thecommission's oversight. The courts and Legislature say they policethemselves. Lawmakers have been reluctant to shut off the spigot ofcampaign money, which means trouble for the proposed ban onlobbyist contributions.
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