Monday, March 18, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: We Will Not Hear a Bill Before Its Time

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March. 17, 2013

When citizens go to the Roundhouse to testify for or against some bill or just to see their government in action, they are expected to be respectful and act with courtesy. That’s really not asking all that much.

So you’d think you could expect our elected representatives to treat the citizens with the same respect and courtesy. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

A glaring example of that happened late last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the night it heard House Bill 77, which would mandate background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows.

This has been one of the most controversial issues facing the Legislature this session. People on both sides of the issue were extremely interested in how the bill was going to play out.

But as it turned out, both sides got the shaft.

The saga started Tuesday night when Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Martinez told a member of New Mexicans for Gun Safety that the committee wasn’t going to hear the bill. Now in fairness, it’s not clear whether Martinez meant he wasn’t going to hear the bill that night or at all. That prompted the gun safety group to hold a rally at the Roundhouse the next day demanding HB 77 be heard.

When Thursday came around, it wasn’t certain the bill would be heard. It didn’t appear on the first version of the Judiciary Committee agenda. In fact, it wasn’t until about 6:30 that night when it appeared on a revised agenda.

It was the very last item, following 20 other bills.

And when the meeting began about 8 p.m., Martinez announced that he would hear the bills in order. And he kept that promise.

That’s what I consider rude.

I’m not saying that the other 20 bills weren’t important. And there were people attending the meeting interested in some of those other bills.

But dozens of people were there just to hear the gun bill. And they waited nearly three hours for the committee to get to it. In other words, it was handled in a way that inconvenienced the most people.

As it turned out, the hearing on HB 77 only took about 45 minutes — which is downright rapid compared with some of the other committee hearings on this bill.

I suppose that people who supported the bill might think the wait was worth it. The committee, on a party-line vote, gave HB 77 a do-pass. Some were surprised that Martinez voted in favor of the bill.

But I bet there are those on both sides who will think twice about going down to the Roundhouse in the future to watch democracy in action.

(Note: The bill died in the last minutes of the Senate Saturday due to a Republican filibuster.)

The rocky road to limbo: Of course, if your name is Hanna Skandera and you’re reading this, you’re likely to be thinking, “A three-hour wait? What are you complaining about?”

Indeed, one of the more bizarre spectacles of this session was the 10-hour, three-day confirmation hearing for Public Education Secretary designate Skandera, which, as of this writing, ended with no vote.

Granted, Skandera, who first was nominated by Gov. Susana Martinez two years ago, has been controversial. But whether you love her or hate her, it’s not fair to anyone that she hasn’t received a vote. Senators who have problems with her should just vote no.

I suspect if there were enough “no” votes, a final action would have been taken by now. Instead, there’s likely to be another year in limbo for Skandera. Who knows? Maybe next year the Rules Committee can hold another grueling 10-hour grilling and come to the same non-conclusion.

Skandera, despite the delay, will still be doing the same job at the same salary. She just has to call herself “secretary designate” instead of secretary.