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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces during a news conference Saturday that there will be a special session to vote on the cannabis bill.

This is a good day for a not-so-distant replay.

State legislators have returned home after a 60-day session that was historic, intense, disorganized, frenetic, slothful and maddening.

They know they will be back for another roller-coaster ride soon enough.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will call a special session to give the state’s 112 lawmakers another try at legalizing recreational cannabis, a bill she covets.

Legalizing the drug has received serious discussion since 2016. But too often cannabis bills are pitched as a panacea. New streams of money will roll in and thousands of jobs will be created, the advocates say, ignoring any drawbacks.

Credit Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, for being skeptical enough to worry about the black market and other regulatory expenses and problems.

Cervantes is a serious student of cannabis legalization in other states. He knows New Mexico will follow the pack. He wants a smart plan so regulators aren’t blindsided by problems.

Recreational cannabis provides the Legislature with cover to revisit bills it should have approved in its recent session.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, fought a pitched public battle with Cervantes on Candelaria’s bill to end the gay-panic defense in criminal cases.

Candelaria says it’s wrong for a defendant to argue that he harmed or killed someone in a panic after discovering the person was gay.

Cervantes agrees with him. Candelaria’s bill cleared the Senate on a 41-0 vote once its hearings accelerated. But the measure died in the House of Representatives.

“I appreciate House Speaker [Brian] Egolf’s efforts,” Candelaria said. “We shouldn’t be in the place we’re in, and that’s on the Senate.”

He wants Lujan Grisham to put his bill on the agenda for the special session. The measure is not controversial, and it’s familiar to many lawmakers.

They also should try to revive a bill to reduce the 175 percent interest rate charged by storefront lenders.

A rate of 36 percent is the standard of the U.S. military to protect soldiers from predatory lenders. Seventeen states also have lowered the storefront lending rate to 36 percent.

Senators led the way for reform by passing a bill with the lower rate. But members of the House of Representatives bowed to the lending industry, favoring an unconscionable rate of 99 percent for many loans.

It’s time for House members to serve the public instead of predatory lenders.

The legislative session saw a breakthrough when a proposed constitutional amendment to expand early childhood education made the ballot after a decade of attempts.

Voters get the final say on whether another 1.25 percent should be taken annually from the state’s $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for education programs.

The proposal has an excellent chance of passing. New Mexico has stagnated and even slumped. If kids get a better start in life through quality education programs, crime rates and prison populations should decline.

Embarrassed senators did an about-face that finally cast sunlight on a part of government.

Legislators have long been able to keep secret certain details of how taxpayers’ money was spent on public works projects.

Senators crippled and killed a reform bill two years ago. This time they approved it 40-0.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, was the point man for this important change. McQueen’s cold-tempered persistence forced grudging senators to yield. There should be no mystery in how public money is spent.

In many respects, sloth and greed bogged down the legislative session.

Lawmakers introduced more than 900 bills, resolutions and memorials. That’s too many. Every legislator wants to return to his or her district and brag about passing a bill, no matter how inconsequential it might be.

Along with too many bills came too little preparation. A few well-defined priorities should be the goal of a Legislature working on strict time limits.

The last change that would improve the Legislature is one that won’t happen in my lifetime.

Pay them.

Lawmakers in New Mexico do not receive a base salary. I don’t feel sorry for them. I favor a salaried Legislature to improve the talent and better serve the public.

As it stands, the Legislature is dominated by retirees, attorneys, and teachers and administrators from public schools. They can afford to run.

Many other residents are capable of being good legislators, but economics keep them on the sidelines.

Paying legislators would require changing the state constitution. It’s worth the effort.

Full-time lobbyists run rings around many of our part-time lawmakers. Legislators lacking skill can take up space in the Capitol for decades.

New Mexico was a sleepy place when the first unpaid state Legislature went to work in 1912.

The state is still hibernating. One reason is its government is stuck in the last century.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(12) comments

Francisco Carbajal

Now that the session is over, I am going to vent with this specific editorial. Regardless on how much the average citizen complains about the "corruption of public official's" within the Executive Branch of the Governor's Office, the Judicial System, etc., a "public opinion/commentary" doesn't have any significance on what side you are on. Whether you are poor or wealthy, Democrat or Republican, and/or you just arrived on an UFO from Mars, your 1 or 2 minute "public opinion/comments" on a virtual Zoom connection is disconnected. What the unethical, lack of moral compass, poor judgement, and self-interest "political monster" (e.g., state legislator, etc.) demands to receive from a voter is their hard-working paycheck to support their election cycle, period! That being said, if you think a state legislator like Cervantes, Candelaria, Alcon, Egolf, Maestas, Chasey, Caballero-Roybal, Ortiz y Pino, Brandt and the list goes on from New Mexico will listen to your "public opinion," think twice and go back to bed. It's over from a New Mexico State Legislature standpoint. They are too busy working underneath the radar with the paid-lobbyist's and special-interests groups" trying to find the next dinner plate.

Chris Mechels

Perhaps the biggest problems with our NM government are; lack of oversight, and lack of transparency. Without those no democracy is going to work.

The way to oversight is the Grand Jury, which once had this function. They could bring charges of Malfeasance against scofflaws, and clean the place up. But, that might work, which is why the Legislature neutered the GJ in the 1990s. As for transparency, the AG, and the DAs could assist on IPRA lawsuits. Today its left to the public, and you can't fully recover the fees, which are taxed. We need assistance from, esp, the AG and full fee recovery. Until then our state employees just sit and smile and dare you to sue them. If we could charge Malfeasance for blocking an IPRA request, that would address both problems.

Today, even if the Legislature should happen to pass a useful bill, such as the badly needed 2017 Rules Act reforms, the government doesn't follow the law. This is esp true with Grisham's administration, which has papered the walls with illegal rules hearings, much worse than Martinez. She seems to have absolutely NO regard for the law. Boy, we know how to pick em...

Peter Wyman

After decades of being 49th or 50th in Education, the teachers unions continue to influen$e lawmakers into throwing more money at the problem...and the lawmakers willingly comply. "You scratch my back" ad nauseum.

More money won't fix failing schools.

https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-09-20/more-money-wont-fix-failing-public-schools

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Well stated. Unfortunately the left wing politicians are not intelligent, nor resourceful enough to actually try and understand what the problem is in NM education. Their standard operating procedure is to throw money at problems, as they think money is everything, they will soon find out, as NM stays in last place, it is not the answer. But in the meantime, all that money, that could have made a difference if applied properly with intelligent people in charge, will be wasted. And it IS our money, not theirs.

Mike Johnson

In totality, as a conservative D, I found much to like about this session. The Santa Fe Ring and their well heeled, elite left wing allies did less damage than could have been done. Of course with MLG fixated on smoking dope, the worst is yet to come for us as a society. However, the fantasy that paying these nincompoops to be there, will change them being nincompoops, is beyond reason. Any paltry salary of say, even $80K a year, will certainly not attract the best and brightest citizens, who have already learned only those who lust for ego, power, and control want to be in politics, it is not about making a better living for you and your family at all. Politics is NOT private enterprise, and will never have the same quality of people in it, because it's not about the money.

Khal Spencer

I find it amusing that the only reason to hold a special session is to legalize reefer. As if that is going to make our problems give up and run away. Call it Michelle's Reefer Madness.

Mind you, I support legalizing dope because I have long thought the War on Drugs was a losing battle, a case of government choosing one sin over another (why can't I kick back with a joint when I can kick back with a fifth of Woodford Landing Double Oaked?) and more often than not a case of friendly fire, ruining people's lives. The War has not solved the drug problem but it has intensified crime and gangs.

That said, those who see a pot of gold at the end of the legalization rainbow are over-hyping things. Or as Oregon found out, "...The legalization of cannabis in 2015 seemed to offer unlimited potential growth, but the market almost at once became over-saturated, resulting in cheap weed but few who could make a living off it."

https://reason.com/2021/03/22/the-dream-of-the-90s-died-in-portland/

Let's hear it for #50 out of 50.

Mike Johnson

True Khal, and California was a failure too, but of course NM knows how to do it right......right?

https://www.greenentrepreneur.com/article/352939

Khal Spencer

All good points. I've seen bills obviously written by lobbyists who then handed a $2,500 check to a legislator to carry their water and to ensure their water-carrier ignored the citizenry. And having lobbyists write bills, whether on the left or right, relieves the legislators of having to do any thinking even if they were capable of it. For example, one legislator wrote a gun bill that was shredded by three independent government agencies (the AG's office, the DA's association, and the PD's office) in its Fiscal Impact Report. Thankfully, it died a quiet death.

Time to overhaul this mess. We get the government we deserve and boy, do we deserve it.

Mike Johnson

Indeed Khal, this "government" (actually just politics) is exactly why NM is in last place and the voters just keep on electing the same kind of people and expecting different results. Is that wishful thinking, blind faith, or insanity?

John Cook

In the first place, many good things happen with good government. New Mexico's government is no better or worse than most. This legislative session is proof that good things that help actual citizens can be accomplished. As for your legitimate complaint that lobbyists buy votes with so-called 'campaign contributions'; the solution is not pay for legislators. The solution is public financing of campaigns and an absolute prohibition on contributions and gifts. And strict enforcement of a prohibition on self-dealing. But primarily, public financing of campaigns.

Khal Spencer

Getting those quid pro quo contributions out of the system and replacing with public financing is a good idea, John. Plus, that might result in more competition to run because people will not have to compete with Consolidated Treachery, LLC or The Judean People's Front. Now, given that most of the legislators have their fingers in the cookie jar, do you really expect that to happen?

Mike Johnson

I don't know, given the "quality" of the people who desire to run for office, and I do not believe public funding would make them all better, I don't think public funding would do anything but waste more money NM doesn't have to spend and take away from things it should be spending it on. My dos centavos.

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