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.
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.