Three-fourths Through

By Lance Chilton

We all have different approaches to getting chores done – I, for example, always turned in my school assignments early and I always change to the lane I’ll need on the highway far before I need to do so. My wife, on the other hand, is somewhat of a procrastinator; the famous example is her roller-skating to her college class just in time to turn in an assignment she had just completed. We both did all right in school.

Well, here we are, folks, three-quarters of the way through the session as I write this. Three bills, less than 0.3% of the 1027 total bills (not counting memorials and resolutions) have passed both houses and been sent to the Governor. 159 bills have passed either the House or the Senate, but not both. That’s about 15.4%. These last two plus weeks should be hectic, as usual. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable in a leadership position in either house.

I’ve looked at bills and the statistics at this point, and I have two observations to make for now:
• There are a great many of the 159 bills that have passed one house that have been passed unanimously and quite a few more where the dissenters can be counted one or both hands.
• No bills have been defeated on the floor of either the House or the Senate.
• If you want a bill passed by at least one house by the three-quarters point of the session, have it be pre-filed (before the Legislature starts its session, or filed very soon after the start. 25.2% of all bills with numbers below 200 have passed one house so far. 18.5% of bills with numbers between 201 and 300 have passed one house, and only 13 of the 400 bills with numbers between 201 and 400 have passed the House or the Senate – that’s a measly 3.25%.
• Filibustering has begun; some of that other side of the aisle seem to feel that no passed bills is better than passing bills they oppose.

Although there are bills on every conceivable subject among those 1027, from a new medical system for the state to a new state aroma, there are some especially popular topics. From my informal count, here are some of those in the top tier:
• mental health 119
• Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) 56
• Guns and firearms 42
• Alcohol 23
• Cannabis 14
• Malpractice 12
• Transgender 11
• Abortion 10
• Tobacco 10

Mental health attempts at solutions are popular because we have such difficulties getting care for behavioral health and substance use disorders – and we can blame much of that on a former governor’s destruction of the behavioral health system. These problems not only affect poverty, child well-being, and the use of substances to try to numb the nasty feelings inside us, but also cause homelessness and crime and our high rates of violence-related deaths and injury.

Behavioral health disorders also lead to CYFD’s problems, in that troubled people are more likely to cause trouble, in turn for their children. CYFD gets a lot of mention in bills – a lot of grief – in part because of high turnover in its staff and some bad outcomes for some children subjected to abuse and neglect. Despite efforts by CYFD secretary Barbara Vigil to cope with the unwinnable razor’s edge between taking too many children away from parents who are really OK parents and, on the other hand, having children damaged by parents who, perhaps in retrospect, could have had those children removed before something terrible happened, CYFD comes under the Legislature’s thumb with some well-considered and the not-so-well-considered legislation.

There’s widespread disagreement about what to do about gun violence and keeping New Mexicans safe and crime-free. There are two bills to employ school marshals, armed with concealed weapons. Other bills would prosecute parents who don’t keep their weapons safely away from children and to restrict the types of firearms that can be bought or impose a waiting period. We’re waiting.

Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are among the substances people use and abuse – they give pleasure and they give pain, and they contribute to our budget in positive and negative ways. Increasing taxes on them is among the ways bills address cutting down on their use and the resulting violence, disease, and behavioral troubles.

Previous medical malpractice is one of many issues physicians mention in describing why New Mexico has such a dire shortage of medical care practitioners. The Legislature is trying to find ways to stem the outflow of providers – they have for some years, and, well, we’re waiting.

Although as noted, there are plenty of bills that have passed the House or the Senate with unanimous votes, abortion and transgender issues are not among them. By my count, two of the ten bills about abortion protect the providers and recipients of abortion care and the other eight penalize one or the other or both. A similar count applies to transgender individuals and those who provide services to them. Red states are having a field day regulating both abortion and transgender care. Thanks to forward looking Democratic representatives and senators, we’re more likely to protect those who seek and those who provide such services.

I hope I’ll have good news for you about results of the rushed last two weeks of the session when we meet again. In the meanwhile, I’ll borrow my wife’s roller-skates. Or maybe I’ll loan them to one of our beleaguered, hard-working senators or representatives.