On January 17, 2019 the New Mexico Senate announced the “Rocket Docket” which consisted of 30 expedited bills.
Top Democratic legislators “fast-tracked” 30 bills during the first few weeks of the 60-day session by sending them to just one committee for vetting and then moving them quickly along for floor votes.
All 30 bills were bills introduced in past legislative sessions that, while receiving wide bipartisan support in the Legislature, were nevertheless vetoed by the former Republican Governor often times without any explanation.
Vetoes of 10 bills resulted in litigation and the New Mexico Supreme Court found the vetoes “unconstitutional” and the bills became law.
While a few of the “rocket docket” bills encountered opposition and lost momentum, most of them were voted upon quickly and had broad support.
The New Mexico House set up its own set of expedited bills that went through the same process.
The goal was to have a complete set of bills ready for Governor Lujan Grisham’s signature within a matter of weeks as opposed to at the end of the session.
Not surprising, a few Republican leaders objected to the expedited “rocket docket” process on how the bills were handled
The Republicans argued that new members who were elected to office last fall would not have a sufficient opportunity to review the bills or ask questioning.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham defended the Legislature’s vetting of the “rocket docket” bills by saying the bills were not merely a list of “legislative ideas” but legislation that was in fact based on previous measures that were reviewed, debated and passed but vetoed by her predecessor.
INITIAL SUCCESS OF ROCKET DOCKET
On Monday, February 4, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, with 25 lawmakers looking on, signed into law 42 bills that were sponsored by a mixture of Democrats and Republicans.
The list of “rocket docket” bills signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on February 4, 2019 include the following House (HB) and Senate (SB) bills:
HB 44: Career-Technical Teacher Development
HB 50: Audit Reviews by Board of Finance
HB 66: Mammogram Info Disclosure
HB 72: Occupational Therapy Scope of Practice
HB 74: Traditional Historic Community Qualifications
HB 97: Local Government Investment Pool Participants
HB 203: Economic Development Finance & Ag Enterprises
HB 216: File County Subdivision Ordinances with State
HB 217: Infrastructure Development Zone Meetings
HB 226: Add Lay Midwives as Practitioners
HB 227: Use of Teacher Attendance for Evaluations
HB 229: Regional Air Center Special Economic District
HB 237: Extend University Police Officer Authority
HB 242: Contact Lens & Glasses Prescriptions
HB 250: Native American Student Needs Assessments
HB 257: Enviro Services Gross Receipts Uses
HB 276: Establish Advanced Mapping Fund
SB 9: Psychologist Prescription Certificates
SB 18: Local Government Planning Fund
SB 28: Placement of Children in Protective Custody
SB 48: Student Diabetes Management Act
SB 58: Evidence and Research Based Funding Requests
SB 77: Landowner Liability for Cave Exploration
SB 106: Short-Term Occupancy Rentals Tax
SB 117: Wastewater System Financing
SB 118: Protect Confidentiality of Crime Victims
SB 145: Coordinate Medical Transport
SB 149: Rename Alcohol & Gaming Division
SB 150: Homeowner Associations Changes
SB 157: Sick Leave for Educational Retirement Credit
SB 164: Prizes & Gifts for Insurance Customers
SB 179: Disabilities Students Lottery Scholarships
SB 189: Mobility Limitation Transport Placards
SB 191: Lobbyist Reporting Requirements
SB 193: Beef Council Assessment Opt-Out
SB 197: Judge Pro Tempore Fund
SB 198: Admin Office of the Courts Director Funds
SB 199: Electronic Communications Privacy Act
SB 200: Massage Therapy Act
SB 215: Maternal Mortality & Morbidity Prevention Act
SB 236: Disabled Veteran License Plate Options
SB 244: Legal Services for Land Grants & Acequias
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
With the apparent success of the “rocket docket”, the 8 year legacy of failure of the former Republican Governor must be remembered.
The failed legacy of former Republican Governor “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” (“SWMNBN”) includes a legacy of vindictiveness and mean-spirited attitude toward the New Mexico legislature.
The former Republican Governor will be remembered for her inability to work with the New Mexico legislature and how she treated those she disagreed with, even with those in her own Republican party.
The former Republican Governor’s re election victory in 2014 helped Republicans seize control of the New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years but their control lasted only 2 years.
The peak of vindictiveness and pettiness was when the former Republican Governor’s Political Action Committee spent $1 million dollars to defeat long time and respected State Senate Democrat Floor Leader Michael Sanchez who she considered a major obstacle to her policies.
The Republican House overplayed their hand and proceeded to preside over the House in a vindictive manner against Democrats.
The Republican House approved only Republican legislation and voted down all Democrat sponsored legislation.
In 2016, Democrats regained control of the house putting Democrats in control of both the New Mexico House and Senate.
On April 25, 2018, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that she did not follow proper constitutional procedures in vetoing 10 different bills that, for the most part, had passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support.
In court, state lawmakers argued the 10 vetoes were not properly carried out because the Republican Governor either took too long to act on them or did not provide an explanation with each vetoed bill.
The Supreme Court ruling put end to the court battle and resulted in the bills becoming law.
The common consensus amongst many members of the legislature is that Republican Governor “SWMNBN” vetoed the legislation in retaliation for them not supporting her policies.
President Barack Obama said to Republicans after his 2009 inauguration, during a meeting with congressional Republicans about his economic programs they condemned “Elections have consequences”.
There is no doubt that the “rocket docket” is a dramatic departure from the way the New Mexico Legislature has operated for decades.
Democrat House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe commented on the need for the “rocket docket” by saying:
“We’ve had eight years of lost time and we have a lot of catching up to do.”
Over the years, the legislature has been severely criticized for spending far way too much time on ceremonial activities and debating and voting on what many observers felt were meaningless memorials, tributes and ceremonies.
Each of the signed bills on the “rocket docket” was sent to one committee in both the House and Senate and then voted upon by both chambers.
The customary way of doing business in the legislature has always been when a Senate or House bill is introduced, it is referred to multiple standing committees, 2, 3, and even 4 committees at a time.
It is common knowledge that the more committees that a bill is referred to, the more likely it is that it will be tabled and “die in committee” and never have a final vote and never become law.
In years past, a majority of bills were typically not approved by lawmakers until literally the final weeks, days and even hours of a 60-day legislative session.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham during the signing of the 40 bills into law described them as proof of a new bipartisan effort by saying:
“Today is a signal that we are, in fact, working together.”
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe had this to say about the passed “rocket docket” legislation:
“I think we’ve come up with true consensus bills.”
Republican Roswell Representative Candy Spence Ezzell, who attended the bill singing along with many other Republicans, chimed in by saying:
“It does take working with both sides of the aisle to get something accomplished for the good of New Mexico.”
With the election of Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the success of the “rocket docket”, the New Mexico Legislature and voters are quickly beginning to appreciate the true meaning of “elections have consequences”.
The “rocket docket” should be made a permanent part of the legislative process as should cooperation and communication between all legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, with the new Governor.