Modernizing the NM Legislature into a Professional, Paid Organization

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Problem Statement

Positive change in New Mexico is stymied by a number of barriers, not the least of which is the power of big money interests, the oil and gas industry and others. But structural factors also limit our legislature’s ability to serve the people’s interests:

  1. The limited durations of the NM sessions (60 days in odd years, 30 days in even years with an agenda limited by the Gov’s call) allows opponents to run out the clock. They can drag out committee hearings and floor sessions, leaving the majority of bills to die at the end of the session. Changing this will require a constitutional amendment to Article IV sections 5 & 6, which specify the session parameters.
  2. NM legislators are paid only a per diem (as of 2021, currently $192/day) as specified in Article IV section 10 [Compensation of members] limiting the candidate pool to those with independent means of financial support.
  3. NM legislators lack any significant staffing help, they are not provided with in-district office space, websites, staffers to hear or support constituent services or do research on district needs, etc. (1)

Item 3, the staffing issue, should be solvable by legislation. The legislature already votes to pay for their session expenses and some staff personnel via the $30M ‘Feed Bill’ HB1.

For a New Mexico legislature to govern as a modern state in the 21st century these structural limitations need to be addressed.

1. LCS does provide central staffing to draft bills. Office space is available in the Roundhouse.

Some Background

NCSL classifies New Mexico as a ‘part-time-lite’ legislature with low pay and (no) staff, see;

Full- and Part-Time Legislatures - National Conference of State Legislatures - June 2017

The NM Constitution in Article IV lays out the powers and duties of the state legislature. Section 5 specifies the length of the sessions.

Text of Section 5 Time and Length of Sessions; Items Considered in Even-Numbered Years

A. Each regular session of the legislature shall begin annually at 12:00 noon on the third Tuesday of January. Every regular session of the legislature convening during an odd-numbered year shall remain in session not to exceed sixty days, and every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall remain in session not to exceed thirty days. No special session of the legislature shall exceed thirty days.
B. Every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall consider only the following:
(1) budgets, appropriations and revenue bills;
(2) bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor; and
(3) bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.[1]

The NM Constitution in Article IV section 10 specifies that legislators shall be paid only a per diem.

Text of Section 10 Compensation of members
Each member of the legislature shall receive:

A. per diem at the internal revenue service per diem rate for the city of Santa Fe for each day's attendance during each session of the legislature and the internal revenue service standard mileage rate for each mile traveled in going to and returning from the seat of government by the usual traveled route, once each session as defined by Article 4, Section 5 of this constitution;
B. per diem expense and mileage at the same rates as provided in Subsection A of this section for service at meetings required by legislative committees established by the legislature to meet in the interim between sessions; and
C. no other compensation, perquisite or allowance. (As amended November 7, 1944, September 15, 1953, November 2, 1971, November 2, 1982 and November 5, 1996.)

The NM Constitution in Article XIX Section 1 lists the requirements to pass a constitutional amendment. (Can pass with a simple majority):

  1. An amendment or amendments to this constitution may be proposed in either house of the legislature at a regular session; and if a majority of all members elected to each of the two houses voting separately votes in favor thereof, the proposed amendment or amendments shall be entered on their respective journals with the yeas and nays thereon.
  2. Amendments approved by the legislature shall be voted upon at the next regular election held after the adjournment of that legislature or at a special election to be held not less than six months after the adjournment of that legislature, at such time and in such manner as the legislature may by law provide. An amendment that is ratified by a majority of the electors voting on the amendment shall become part of this constitution.
  3. No amendment shall restrict the rights created by Sections One and Three of Article VII hereof, on elective franchise, and Sections Eight and Ten of Article XII hereof, on education, unless it be proposed by vote of three-fourths of the members elected to each house and be ratified by a vote of the people of this state in an election at which at least three-fourths of the electors voting on the amendment vote in favor of that amendment.