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We need a new State Question. Instead of, “Red or Green?” it should be, “How’re we gonna pay for that?”
It’s the question that hangs over legislative committee hearings and chamber debates. And yet, even in a year with no money to spend, there’s still room to air philosophical differences.
Take a slice of Senate floor debate, for example.
We see the photo of another cute little child who died at the hands of a parent. Who wouldn’t look at his face and think, something’s got to be done. And that’s how many a bill enters the race to become law.
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia’s bill directs the state Children, Youth and Families Department to coordinate a study on child abuse and the services available using programs at New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico State universities. Garcia, a Las Cruces Democrat, is a courageous, seasoned lawmaker, but I have to ask: Another study? Don’t we already have the answers?
We know alcohol, drugs and the economy play a role. We know most people make lousy parents when they’re too young for the job and that some people shouldn’t be parents at any age. We know poverty is sometimes a factor, although abuse happens across the tax brackets.
If you saw “The King’s Speech” you learned that a toddler who would become King of England was abused.
Senate Republicans had a variety of mostly sensible objections: Why do we need another study? We should spend money teaching fathers to become dads; anybody can be a father but you have to learn to be a dad. We should spend money helping families. There’s no appropriation, so this is another unfunded mandate. And so on.
The agencies and institutions were already on record with their objections, and it came down to, who’s going to pay for this study?
CYFD and district attorneys said pointedly that the study would take a bite out of their already strained budgets. The best prevention is strengthening families and improving the lives of children, said CYFD, and programs are in place, but it takes a village.
To that end, Garcia has another bill that would give CYFD $150,000 to launch a public awareness campaign. That one makes more sense. We can’t expect social workers and law enforcement to solve the problem alone.
The study bill, however unnecessary, passed the senate 19-16, so at least 19 senators felt they had done something.
One of those voting against it was Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Reality Check told his peers that he would now have to ding the budgets of all the involved agencies and institutions to pay for the study.
Then there was the bill to require vehicles to allow at least five feet when passing a bicycle. Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat and bicyclist, was answering a familiar complaint.
I ride a bike, and it’s darned scary when cars – or trucks with big side mirrors – pass too closely. But do we really need a law?
The Legislative Council Service predicts police will enforce this law as they do cell-phone laws – not much.
It didn’t require funding, but it took up at least two hours of floor debate.
Every senator, it seemed, had something to say about bikes, cars, traffic and roads. If they can talk this long about bicyclists, groused one of my fellow scribes, imagine what they’ll do with the dogs-in-outdoor-restaurants bill.
Bottom line: It’s a problem that affects the state’s biggest cities and maybe some college and tourist towns. And some cities already have local ordinances. The bill passed narrowly.
The unofficial State Question about who pays will be asked with more urgency towards the end of the session.
Meanwhile, democracy’s uneven wheels roll on.
NM News Services