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Chandler reflects on exciting session

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By Tris DeRoma

Long after most people have turned in for the night, New Mexico State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) and many of her fellow legislators were still at work on the House of Representatives Floor Thursday, debating and voting on a raft of bills.

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Since January, legislators have spent 12-hour days doing the people’s business.

The session was the first one for Chandler. Even though she worked as a legislative analyst for the state Legislature before becoming elected, being the one to actually write and usher a bill through a committee, and through the Legislature to the governor’s desk has been a different experience, she said.

“Getting the bill through committee has been an interesting experience for me,” Chandler said.

“You learn a lot. I guess I wasn’t as appreciative of the committee process as I have become,” Chandler said. “People bring a different perspective to a bill when you’re presenting it to committee. As a consequence there are often suggestions that make the bills better. … It’s a process, a process of negotiation, which certainly as an analyst, I wasn’t directly involved with.”

Much of that negotiating took place with her Republican colleagues. She was a co-sponsor on several bills with State Rep. Jason Harper (R-Sandoval).

One of the bills she’s most proud of helping pass and which was signed by the governor was House Bill 11, a bill that closes the gross receipts tax exemption to the state’s national laboratories.

The state tax code previously allowed for non-profits, no matter how big or small, to seek an exemption from paying gross receipts tax to the state.

The bill was written by Sen. Carlos Cisneros (R-Los Alamos) and the LANL Coalition of LANL Communities about two years ago in response to the possibility of the Los Alamos National Laboratory getting a non-profit operations and management contractor.

Chandler, Harper and Romero carried it through the House after Cisneros managed to get the Senate to pass the bill. In the House, it passed unanimously, noted Chandler, saying it was a good example of the bipartisanship that has existed between Democrats and Republicans during the session.

Chandler said she was able to work with Harper and satisfy his concerns over the bill, a bill former Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed last year.

“He was satisfied, and that brought some other Republicans along to support the bill, so it really was a bipartisan effort. I was very happy to see the governor sign it,” Chandler said. “It was victory for the region, the state and for Los Alamos.”

She said now that the bill is law, Los Alamos County will be able to plan its financial future.

“That was one of my priorities, to get it done this year because Los Alamos County has been in limbo for a year or so in its ability to plan without knowing what type of revenue stream they were going to have for the future,” Chandler said.

Chandler, who was on the county council when the bill was vetoed last year, remembers holding up employee raises and some capital improvement projects because of the uncertainty with the GRT tax.

“I think it’s a great relief to the community and now we can start moving forward on some things. It’s also helpful to the state because it gets 60 percent of the GRT,” Chandler said.

In the House, that feeling of camaraderie and focus on a common goal wasn’t unusual, Chandler said.

“I’m proud to say that Rod Montoya, who is the Republican Minority Whip, referred to me as the other day as one of his fellow rogue members,” Chandler said. “I was almost flattered when he said that… Every once and a while we’ll vote together and it’s always a surprise to each one of us when we do. He’s much, much more conservative than me.”

She also noted that there are 20 freshman legislators in the house, and like any freshman class at school, they’ve used that common bond to forge friendships.

“I can see where you develop bonds with your fellow legislators, whether they’re from the same party or not,” Chandler said.

The Legislature’s first order of business was the “rocket docket,” a raft of 42 bills that were signed by the governor within three weeks of the opening of the January session.

Included in that first group of bills was House Bill 227, which allows teacher take 10 sick days annually without having a negative impact on their evaluations. Chandler, along with Harper and Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe) were also sponsors on the bill.

The bill allows teachers to take up to 10 sick days a year without it having a negative impact on their evaluations.

This session, Chandler was a sponsor on 23 bills. She is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, House Taxation and Revenue Committee and the House Enrolling and Engrossing Committee. Though not all of her bills may make it to the governor’s desk this time around, she said she would keep trying until they all make it in some form or another.

“One thing I’m concerned about is because there’s so much happening on the budget and the tax package… I’m afraid that any of my bills may get stalled just because of lack of time. Those will certainly get refiled and retweaked,” Chandler said.

During the next session, in January 2020, Chandler hopes to focus her efforts on  open government initiatives and lobbying regulation.

“I’m real happy with what we’ve been doing this year in terms of minimum wage… we’ll see. There’s a lot to work on in the interim and that will give rise to new bills,” Chandler said.