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Firs and FIRs, or What I Did During My Winter Vacation

by Lance Chilton

A fir is a conifer, with evergreen foliage and upright cones. A FIR is a Fiscal Impact Report, a summary of a New Mexico House or Senate bill or memorial or resolution, with an estimate of, what else, its “fiscal impact.” How much will it cost state government. FIRs are written for every piece of legislation introduced into the legislature, which this year totals 878 pieces of legislation –thus almost 878 FIRs, excepting only those memorials honoring someone or something – this year including “Better Hearing and Speech Month,” the Centennial of the 19 th Amendment (that gave women the right to vote, so I hope all of you do in 2020!) and Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Day.

For many legislators, FIRs function as a summary of the pluses and minuses of a bill or memorial, as we
try to summarize a bill’s provisions in English rather than legalese, and we attempt to make clear what arguments can be made for and against a bill and memorial from a common sense as well as a fiscal standpoint. If you have looked at the website, you’ll find the piece of legislation by typing in its number, a keyword, or finding it on its sponsor’s part of the website. Once you find the bill, you can read it in its entirety (the marijuana bill started out at 173 pages and grew from there; House Bill 2, the budget, started out at 201 pages). Or/And you can find the FIR; on the bill’s or memorial’s webpage, click on “Analysis” and then on “Fiscal Impact Report” to see the handiwork of the five session-time contractors (including me), and the approximately 15 other analysts who write FIRs.

Legislators can’t be experts in everything they have to vote on – from horse racing and methane flares to college scholarships and early childhood home visiting. So they will often read the FIRs to get an idea about what’s happening with a given bill – a “Cliff’s Notes” version of a bill (I won’t say a “Legislation for Dummies” book).

And of course I can’t know about everything from horse racing to home visiting either. I certainly don’t know tax law. Fortunately, LFC employs a number of people with different types of expertise. In the bullpen, the warren of little cubicles where four other contract analysts and I sit, are two attorneys with experience in state government, an economist with extensive experience with the tax code, an expert editor, and a pediatrician. The LFC also, of course, has full-time employees who have developed a great deal of expertise, and it is they who have first “dibs” on the bills as they’re introduced. And we all consult together to produce what I hope are helpful analyses of 878 bills – for the legislators and for the public and for you!