Legislative roundup — Feb. 18


Days remaining in session: 2 1/2

Webcast fail: Although webcasting has been touted as a way for people to watch legislative meetings without having to come to the Capitol, many people who wanted to watch Monday's Senate Rules Committee hearing on confirmation of Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera found the webcast useless.

The webcast on the Legislature's website would transmit a few moments of testimony and then shut down for several minutes before coming back on. By the time senators began voting, the webcast completely shut down for some viewers.

The same type of problems occurred last week during the Rules Committee's hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.

No, it wasn't your computer's fault. John Yaeger, deputy director of the Legislative Council Service, confirmed that the large number of viewers -- or would-be viewers -- was responsible.

"We have a 100 (megabytes per second) line and we've brushed right up against limit today and several days recently," Yaeger said Monday. "By comparison, we generally topped out at 60 mbps last session."

It's doubtful that there will be a solution to the problem in the near future. So far there has been no proposed appropriation to upgrade the webcast system.

DWI prevention: House Bill 10a, which would further tighten drunken driving laws, passed the House Monday on a 51-5 vote and now goes to the Senate.

The bill was unexpectedly tabled on Feb. 6 in the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, but later got a do-pass recommendation after committee members agreed to reconsider the bill the following week.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Albuquerque, Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, is similar to one which passed the House last year but died in the Senate. Backers say it closes loopholes in the state's DWI laws by including felony DWI under the state's Habitual Offender Enhancement statute, increasing requirements for removal of an ignition interlock device and mandating home Breathalyzers for offenders sentenced to house arrest.

Reading remediation: A gentler version of a bill that originally was designed to retain third-grade students who are having trouble reading passed Monday in the House.

House Bill 93, which was amended to emphasize remedial instruction for struggling readers, passed on a 34-29 vote with Democrats generally favoring it and Republicans opposed. It now moves to the Senate.

Parents would have a say in whether their children are held back a grade, much like current law, except in cases of chronic truancy. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez championed retaining poor-reading third-graders, citing research that linked ability to read at grade-level during that stage to the likelihood of graduating from high school.

Easley remembered: The House paid respects Monday to deceased Rep. Stephen Easley, a Democrat from Eldorado who was 60 when he died in August. Gov. Susana Martinez last year appointed Rep. Vickie Perea, R-Belen, to replace him.

House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, called Easley "an everyday hero" because of the concern he showed for New Mexico's most vulnerable populations.

Easley had served in just one session in the House, but left a lasting impression on fellow representatives. Republicans and Democrats alike reflected on his wit and intellect.

"My nickname for him was 'Big Brain,' " said Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque.

"There have been times this session when I've said, 'Wow, Stephen. I miss you man,' " said Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces.

Adios, Kiki: Tears and laughter colored a sendoff Monday in the House to Rep. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, who plans to retire after 37 years — half of his life — in the Legislature.

In addition to his legislative work on the justice system and his chairmanship of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, less tangible examples of Saavedra's tenure in the House shone through in the memorial.

The House spent about two hours sharing memories of his warmth, fairness, welcoming tutelage to members of both parties, the legislative action in 1988 that dubbed him the official "House jester now and forever" and his lively language. Scarcely a member spoke of Saavedra without using the term "gentleman."

"Kiki takes the attitude that 'I don't have to look down on anyone, I don't have to look up to anyone,' " Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said.

By inviting speakers testifying before his committee to "bump your gums" and giving fresh-faced lawmakers private counsel, Saavedra left an indelible impression on the other representatives.

"You'll always be the chairman to me," said Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

Saavedra deflected attention from himself by thanking his wife for her patience and cheering the budgetary prowess of Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe. He concluded his message by imploring the House members to treat each other respectfully, regardless of their ideological differences.

Government cheese: Lawmakers in the House and the Senate on Monday found samples from Clovis' Southwest Cheese on their desks.

The cheese plant was touted for its productivity of 1.5 tractor loads of cheese per hour. The only complaint from lawmakers about their samples was that they wished they were larger.

Looking Ahead:

• The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the nomination of Environment Secretary-Designate Ryan Flynn at 10 a.m. Tuesday. On Monday, several environmental groups, including Amigos Bravos, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, Environment New Mexico, New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Conservation Voters New Mexico declared opposition to Flynn's nomination because of his policies.

• The House is scheduled to hear the proposed new Navajo Nation gambling compact on Tuesday, House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said. The House is scheduled to convene at noon Tuesday.

Quote of the day:

"The telephone poles are icy. And the chickens are lice-y." -- Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, reciting a poem he said he wrote in second grade, during debate on Senate Memorial 40, which calls on the state to establish the position of state poet laureate.

-- "When he walked in this morning I could tell it was his birthday because he had his banker suit on." -- House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, referring to Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, who celebrated his 79th birthday Monday.


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