Home New mexico tax Editorial: Omnibus Legislation is a Worrying Path to Democracy in New Mexico

Editorial: Omnibus Legislation is a Worrying Path to Democracy in New Mexico

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If you were wondering what exactly lawmakers were voting on at the end of the legislative session last week, you weren’t alone. Even those close to the process were troubled by the floor amendments, superseding bills and omnibus measures that passed through the Roundhouse.

House and Senate leaders bundled heavy bills on voting reform, crime and tax legislation into omnibus packages during the final days of the 30-day session in a desperate attempt to push through the finish line to legislation.

This is not a new problem. Remember a decade ago, when Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s top budget official had to apologize to lawmakers after she provided information about the wrong version of an omnibus tax package in the House during the last hours of the 2013 session? Even members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee had not seen the final version before it was voted on.

This year’s clustering of major proposals was largely due to the ambitious agenda set by the governor and lawmakers from both parties, albeit a short session with the main focus on the budget.

Legislators deserve credit for spending long hours negotiating and compromising in order to get important legislation across the finish line.

But the eleventh-hour kitchen sink approach of ramming through complex legislation is once again heartburning. The successful Senate amendment to the tax package alone is 68 pages long. The ballot package – a massive mix of sensible and nonsensical laws – was repeatedly tweaked until it failed due to last-minute filibuster. And while House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, says most of the final pieces of the crime-fighting agenda approved by the House on the last day of the session came from bills considered in hearings. committee, the state’s 14 district attorneys are urging the governor to veto it in part because they believe the language defeats lawmakers’ intent and restricts law enforcement access. order to GPS data for remand defendants.

One wonders if the governor can legally veto an article with such nebulous budget ties. But the president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association says the data section was written without input from prosecutors.

Ultimately, the omnibus crime bill deserves the governor’s signature because it contains several significant provisions such as creating a new felony of operating a chop shop, increased penalties for theft of metal, enhanced penalties for brandishing a firearm while committing a serious crime, the removal of the six-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder, and a new fund for officer retention payments at intervals of five years. These are valuable measures that can help reduce crime and should not be scuttled because of a single problem.

If prosecutors find that courts are using the new law to block law enforcement from receiving certain GPS data, they should seek advice from the Supreme Court or provide evidence to lawmakers in the next session.

But stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, even Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has issues with the current process. “This is not the way we should be doing tax policy in New Mexico,” he lamented during a Senate committee hearing the day before the session ended.

The use of omnibus bills in this way should no longer be the norm in the future. While some packaged laws may make sense, they should be the exception and not the rule, and the majority of bills should move up and down on their individual merits. Bundling disparate bills under broad labels such as “crime” or “taxes” or “vote” amounts to procedural extortion – lawmakers must vote for all or nothing. Such grouping also makes transparency and accountability impossible while there is time to act.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government plans to push for a rule change next year, requiring that the bill’s rewrite and amendments be released publicly before a vote. Knowing what legislators will vote on before them is a common sense key to democracy.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.