Watching the clock, lawmakers take action to keep suffrage alive

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Every year, it seems, bills that people have sweated over for months languish in the final days of the legislative session. Only a few are destined to make it, in a time competition involving many hard choices. As the clock ticks down at noon tomorrow, lawmakers are trying to squeeze bills through a window that is shrinking by the hour.

At this point, successful measures have broad support or backing from legislators who have the muscle to push them through. And almost every year, large bills end up succeeding in the last hours thanks to complex maneuvers.

Take, for example, Senate Bill 8, which would update state election law to expand voting rights, create greater ballot access for tribes, and facilitate mail-in voting.

It’s a bill the Democrats, who control the Legislative Assembly, really want and by the last week of the session it hadn’t made it to the House, thanks to a procedural maneuver – an appeal from the Senate – employed by Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who kept the voting rights measure bottled up.

The bill is a local example of a national fight for the right to vote. Across the country, many Republican-controlled states are passing laws that restrict voting to prevent what they call voter fraud after the 2020 election. Democrats are responding that there is no evidence of fraud and that the laws make it harder to vote, especially for voters of color.

The impetus for the legislative battle in New Mexico came in January, when Democrats in the US Senate failed to pass a voting rights bill that would have enshrined greater access to voter registration and to the vote due to GOP opposition. Essentially, the inaction left it up to each state to decide whether to expand or limit voting access. It is generally accepted that expanding voter access helps Democrats in elections while restricting it benefits Republicans.

In New Mexico, Democrats hold the governorship and dominate majorities in both houses of the Legislature, meaning SB8 would likely pass if it managed a floor vote in either house. another bedroom. The legislation would facilitate postal voting, access to ballot boxes or voting centers. And people who have committed a crime but are still on probation or parole could vote. Currently, they must wait until the end of their period of probation or parole. Those incarcerated could not vote under the measure.

This expansion of voting access explains Republican opposition to SB8 and Brandt’s use of “the Senate call” to bottle it up.

But remember the complex legislative maneuvers mentioned above. Democrats pulled it out on a Tuesday night, when House Democrats amended a Senate election bill, SB 144, that was already in the House after clearing the Senate. They added provisions from SB8 and provisions from another election bill, SB6, which enjoys bipartisan support, to SB144.

Republican lawmakers opposed the last-minute amendments, but during a hearing where the changes were made, Rep. Gail Chasey, a Democrat from Albuquerque who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said that this kind of thing happened all the time in the last days of a session. As evidence, she pointed to a new bill introduced Monday in the Senate that combines criminal justice measures passed by the House but not yet passed by the Senate.

That House Democrats rolled provisions from multiple bills into a single bill, creating an omnibus election bill, shows the power of the majority party and the elevated status of the issues.

The combined election bill will likely pass the House.

But his path is not without obstacles. The Senate is expected to accept the changes made to SB144 in the House. It’s called agreement in Roundhouse lingo, and it happens when one house amends a bill passed by the other house.

In the Senate, these so-called approval votes are subject to a Senate appeal, the same procedure Republicans used to block SB8 from getting to a vote in the Senate.

So what is a Senate appeal? Any senator may request that all senators be summoned to the chamber on a particular matter, except those who are excused. If a senator who is not excused cannot be found or does not return to the chamber, the bill will be stalled until all senators are present.

It might sound boring, but it’s dramatic, especially when there’s so little time left in the session. What will prevent the newly amended SB144 from being subject to a Senate appeal if and when a vote of approval comes up in the Senate? Not much if all the senators who should be in the hemicycle are not there.

Another tactic that could kill the bill is time, or the lack of it, as lawmakers opposed to the measure spend valuable time debating every bill introduced in the Senate. Or he could simply lose in the battle for time due to the prioritization of larger bills, like the state budget. Both chambers are heading into the final 24 hours and have yet to agree on how the state will spend its money on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

But one thing you learn from watching the Legislative Assembly is that you never know what will happen in the final days of a session. Where there is political will from powerful legislators, there is often a way.

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