Legislature's work covers rules for pasture gates, alcohol, school day

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By Harold Morgan

Other than spending money, much of the work of our Legislature involves creating new rules or tinkering, changing this or that little thing.
For example, the penalty for leaving a pasture gate open, potentially allowing livestock to escape, used to be $5 to $10. Now the fine ranges from $250 to $1,000, thanks to House Bill 391, one of two animal and livestock bills to pass the 2011 session of Legislature and survive Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto pen.
The new gate non-closure fine is mentioned in the Highlights report issued last month by the Legislative Council Service. The report emphasizes policy changes.
You can find the report at http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/sessionpub.aspx. If you wish to avoid downloading the 145 pages, call the Council Service library (505-986-4600) for a printed copy. Teachers might consider building a class or a study unit around the report. My previous column nudged at the issues of what government should do and what it ought to do. The report shows some of what state government does do. A few items follow.
The Legislature passed 284 bills this year, the fewest for a 60-day session in 25 years. Martinez vetoed 98 bills, just over a third. There were 1,200 bills introduced.
A fair question, especially from those concerned about the scope of government, would be what is so wrong that 1,200 changes are needed. One answer is that more bills are introduced than there are proposals. Some bills are duplicates with one introduced in each house.
Special interests—and every interest is special, just ask—generate bills. The administration always has proposals. Other bills originate from interim committees.
Sometimes, though, one has to wonder why they (whomever “they” are) can’t get it right the first or second time. Alcohol and gambling regulation are an example. “Somehow, additional needs always arise that call for improvements to the Liquor Control Act, Gaming Control Act and various other state gaming control acts, and changes are suggested in almost every legislative session,” says the report.
Two changes responded to national developments. A microdistillery industry has appeared and is now covered by New Mexico law. Another change is increased shipment across state lines by small wineries. For New Mexico wineries, such shipments are easier now.
We have a judicial standards commission, which seems a good thing. The commission is enshrined in the state Constitution, which seems yet another detail cluttering the document. To change the commission means amending the constitution, a wasteful chore for a minor matter. Still, there it is. Adding two people to the now 11-member commission was the only one of 35 amendment proposals to pass the Legislature. Martinez vetoed a bill that would have implemented the proposal if voters approve. Clever, Governor.
While it would appear that a good many bills affect just a few people (the gate fines, naprapathy regulation), others may affect nearly all of us.
The length of the school year was changed to specify 1,080 hours per year, instead of 180 days, for seventh through 12th grades, with a six-hour minimum day. Oddly, it seems to me, sixth graders, who commonly are in the same building as seventh graders, have a shorter day and fewer total hours required. Nothing was said about seniors being allowed to graduate early, reducing their instructional time by around 60 hours.
There is much more. “Chile pepper” has a statutory definition. There is now a “border project fund.” In a declared emergency, journeyman plumbers or gas fitters now may employ up to “five gas pilot relighting technicians.”
Look around. Like Chicken Man, government is everywhere, everywhere.

 Harold Morgan
© New Mexico News Services 2011