The legislative session ended on February 20th.
In New Mexico.
We were in Albuquerque when the session ended about an hour away by highway where speed limits seem to be optional despite the signs.
Albuquerque Journal Capitol reporter Dan Boyd told readers, “New Mexico lawmakers passed more bills during the just completed 30-day legislative session than they had in a short session since 2010, reaching deals on state spending, criminal penalties and driver’s licenses despite partisan differences.”
The Senate Democratic leader talked about the session having “a more civil tone” than the 2015 session. The House Republican Floor Leader said, “bipartisanship is alive and well in Santa Fe.” (For those who have forgotten their fourth-grade civics lessons where we had to memorize all of the state capitals, Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico, not Albuquerque. In fact, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States).
Boyd said New Mexico lawmakers approved 101 bills plus a proposed constitutional amendment reforming the state’s bail system.
Comparing New Mexico’s legislature to Missouri’s legislature is comparing a peach to a raspberry. But let’s make a little fruit salad today anyway.
New Mexico’s legislature meets for sixty days in the odd-numbered years and thirty days in the even-numbered, or election, years. This year all 112 members of the legislature are up for election—all 72 Representatives and all 42 Senators. Democrats control both chambers, 38-32 in the House and 27-15 in the Senate.
Bipartisanship is much easier when the political balance is more in balance.
There are no term limits so that means there are some experienced hands to teach the newcomers how to respect the system and how to respect each other to whatever degree respect can be given in these bile-filled political times.
Missouri has 197 members of the legislature (34 in the Senate, 163 in the House for those not fully civically literate), with two-thirds majorities on the Republican side in each chamber. All of the House seats are up for election this year and one-half of the Senate seats. Missouri has term limits, meaning experienced hands are lacking when it comes to teaching the newcomers how to respect the system and how to respect each other, etc. The bile level appears to be higher in Missouri than in New Mexico.
Our legislature met for 72 days last year and will do about the same this year. Monday, February 29th, was the thirtieth day of this legislative session in Missouri.
The internet site, Legiscan, says 2005 bills have been introduced in Missouri this year. Nine have passed in the first thirty days. Its figures show 145 of the 2135 bills introduced last year were passed in a session that lasted twenty percent longer than the 2015 session in New Mexico.
Legiscan counted 138 measures on which work had been “competed” in New Mexico out of 1013 introduced for the thirty-day session this year and 232 out 1731 in the sixty-day session last year. We haven’t waded too deep into the New Mexico process to determine why Boyd and Legiscan have different numbers but we suspect a slightly different definition of “measure” might be involved.
New Mexico has about 2.1-million people and Missouri has about 6.1 million. Apparently, Missouri therefore needs forty percent more legislators and sixty percent more legislative days every two years to pass fewer bills while enjoying the benefits of much higher partisanship.
It surely can’t be because we have more people.
This is a possible reason for sessions that are short in New Mexico: Members of New Mexico’s legislature are not paid salaries. They get $165 a day per diem, adjustable according to the federal rate, a good reason to get business done expeditiously so legislators can get back home to real jobs in the real workplace with real people.
Missouri’s lawmakers, as we have noted previously, make about $36k a year plus per diem no matter how long they stick around the Missouri Capitol.
We do not offer an opinion of which system is best for the people of each state. One seems clearly more advantageous to legislators and those who influence them. We’ll let you decide which system better serves the people who live and work outside the Capitol.
We recall, however, that earlier this year one of Missouri’s legislative leaders opposed shortening sessions because it would leave the executive branch more in control of state government. Some might find that a rather peculiar observation.
But we wonder if the shorter, lower-paid, legislative sessions in New Mexico are one reason the state is known as “The Land of Enchantment.”