Legislative budget hearings are underway at the state capitol this week, as lawmakers get ready for next month's 60-day session in Santa Fe. Here is the second of two legislative preview articles - this time a look at the new state senate.
Many new personalities will be walking the rounded halls of the state capitol come January 15, and lawmakers don't want to see the kind of acrimony that is so prevalent in the halls of Congress. State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort, a 5-term Republican from Sandia Park, wants the same kind of civility under a new Senate Pro Tempore as she saw under Tim Jennings, who was defeated in last month's election:
"I saw Senator Jennings as somebody that really made a good ProTem in my mind, and he was very fair to us in the minority party and he also represented a big sector of our state which is our farming and ranch and cattle and the big cheese farms and that sort of thing, and he was also a good man."
Senator Peter Wirth, a democrat from Santa Fe entering his second term, agrees that the State Senate has worked together in the past, but he fears that the partisanship sparked by SuperPacs in the recent election might carry into the session:
"When there's huge pressure from the outside, when there's huge pressure from the Executive to do the political thing and not the best policy thing, I just think everyone has to be hypervigilant about being smart politically in how you vote. And sometimes there are tough decisions that you've gotta make and compromise necessarily means you're taking votes that may not be the best political vote for your district, but it's part of getting the job done."
Also in the last election, Senator Wirth saw the need to fix public financing laws that were tested as never before:
"It is imperative that with Citizens United and the United States Supreme Court opening the door up to unlimited money, that we do everything we can to require disclosure of contributions, and the US Supreme Court said we can do that. It's also imperative that we define what coordination means. We've now got independent entities that can give unlimited money but they can't coordinate with campaigns. Our campaign law doesn't define that now; we have to get that on the books."
Senator Wirth also wants to revive a bill that failed last year to allow matching funds for publicly financed candidates based on total contributions. Public financing, Wirth, maintains, should be expanded.
And on the issue of undocumented immigrant licenses, which Governor Martinez has tried to stop ever since taking office in 2009, Senators Wirth and Wilson Beffort disagree. Wirth voted in favor of a failed compromise bill last year that would've required tighter licensing requirements and tougher penalties for violations.
Senator Wilson Beffort gave the compromise bill a thumbs down:
"Just because you have a driver's license does not mean that your gonna maintain your insurance and that's how the bill was marketed. You can come into this state and buy one month's insurance and then drop your insurance and, uh, just hope for the best."
But despite her skepticism, Wilson Beffort hopes the Senate can come up with an acceptable bill:
"So I think that, you know that we're looking at it in a very comprehensive way in the good that people derive from having a license and yet, you know, some of the arguments that are being brought forth in terms of the legal status, so surely we should be able to come up with something that should satisfy both sides and I think that we can."
But the governor's office isn't saying who might carry a license repeal bill. The sponsor of the measure over the last two years was defeated in last month's election.