Taos County lawmakers on what happened in 2019 session

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 3/28/19

Now that the lawmakers had a few days to reorient to the world, The Taos News asked them to give their constituents a rundown of the highs, lows and  just plain exhausting elements of the legislative session.

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Taos County lawmakers on what happened in 2019 session

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When Bobby Gonzales, a state representative, picked up the phone Tuesday (March 26) afternoon, he was a little breathless, having been outside getting the flower bed ready for the spring.

It's the stuff of normal life, one that lawmakers hadn't seen during the busy legislative session at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, which ended March 16.

Now that the lawmakers had a few days to reorient to the world, The Taos News asked them to give their constituents a rundown of the highs, lows and  just plain exhausting elements of the legislative session.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa)

Depending on how you count it, Cisneros is either the second or third most senior lawmaker in the New Mexico Senate. That works out to 35 years of service, "give or take."

In those decades, Cisneros has come to occupy an important place at the Roundhouse. Aside from serving on many powerful committees, he is also the normal sponsor of one of the priciest pieces of legislation each year -- the capital outlay bill, which funds infrastructure. This year turned out to be a big one, across the state and in Taos County.

In the end, Taos County received about $22.5 million in capital outlay money (out of $933 million) for everything from farm equipment at Taos Pueblo to shoring up acequias to helping expand the tightly packed library in Questa.

"This is one of the best years we've had for appropriating" in the past decade, he said. "I think that has some value to the constituents."

A boom in the oilfields of New Mexico led to a significant bump in the state's coffers: about $1 billion for the budget, most of which went to education reforms demanded in a recent lawsuit, and $1 billion for infrastructure projects, he said.

In leaner years, the capital outlay system is often criticized as broken and inefficient.

At the beginning of the session, the legislature passed the so-called "rocket docket," a set of bills that had passed in previous sessions but had been vetoed by the former governor, Republican Susana Martinez. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the rocket docket early in the session.

"It set the stage for a very stressful and tiring legislative session. It's not a bad idea and clearly needed to be done, but it took a lot of valuable time from us and that contributed to a loss of a lot of good legislation," he said.

One piece of legislation that didn't make it was legalizing recreational cannabis.

"My thought is it's inevitable. This year, it still was met with some resistance ... but we'll try it again, maybe with a little different approach," he said.

The biggest disappointment, he said, was a memorial (which doesn't carry the weight of law) honoring the fact that the Christmas tree for the U.S. Capitol will come from the Questa area. While that didn't pass, lawmakers contributed 42 ornaments for the tree, he said.

Rep. Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales (D-Ranchos de Taos)

Gonzales is the most senior lawmaker in the state House of Representatives and by the end of the session, he wrapped up 25 years of service in the lower chamber of the legislature.

He echoed Cisneros' comments about the increased budget and the hearty haul on infrastructure projects. "Taos County came out very well," he said of the capital outlay allocations, which still must be signed by the governor.

"This is probably the hardest session I've seen," he said. For one, the bigger budget meant opening the floodgates on asking for money. "Everyone you can think of had a request."

He criticized pre-filed bills, those submitted before the session even starts. "In my opinion, it's a very bad system because by day one, you're already 200 bills behind and you never catch up."

His bill to sponsor a study of the Health Security Act passed. It provides two years to determine if the state could come up with its own health care system outside of what's currently available. "I'm very excited about this," he said.

Rep. Susan Herrera (D-Embudo)

Herrera was one of 20 freshmen lawmakers in the House this session.

"It was an exciting time to go in," she said. "We did a lot of good work."

She was particularly excited for the education funding in the budget, and the acequia and water projects that also got money.

Though a bill to sponsor a team of water professionals (engineers, lawyers, etc.) didn't make it very far this session, she used about $250,000 of her pork barrel spending to fund the team through the New Mexico Rural Water Association.

One priority that she'll again attack next year, she said, is predatory lending. Her bill to mandate interest rates on "quick" loans not exceed 36 percent didn't make it far. "That's my big goal for the next session. We've got to fix that in New Mexico. That's all there is to it."

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