How to Speak Legislature
During the 2019 New Mexico legislative session, you will be hearing a lot about the opportunities for change, and it’s important to know that each piece of legislation has the potential to completely change the way we live. A piece of legislation can be written by anyone, and after it is sponsored and introduced by a legislator, it passes through a gauntlet of procedures, votes and systems that are important to understand. To fully connect you to your political power, Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM) is launching a Legislative Education Series to simplify and dissect the lawmaking process.
The New Mexico State Legislature is made up of two separate decision-making bodies: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives and Senators represent districts all over the state and are elected by us – voters.
- In even-numbered years, like 2018, these legislators meet for a 30-day legislative session primarily to discuss legislation and adjustments for the state budget. The Governor can also authorize or “call” for specific bills not directly related to the budget to be considered during the 30-day session.
- In odd-numbered years, like 2019, these legislators meet for a 60-day legislative session and consider all matters and issues from around the state.
Part 1: Introduction of Legislation
A piece of legislation is a written proposal to add, remove or change existing law and can be introduced in either the House or Senate. Each piece of legislation must have a legislative sponsor in order to be introduced. These proposals are introduced in the following ways:
- A Bill creates, empowers, makes duties or obligations, prohibit acts, appropriates money or any combination of these things. Bills that pass through both chambers must be acted on by the Governor – she can choose to sign or veto a bill. If she takes no action, she “pocket vetoes” a bill.
- A Resolution is a formal declaration from either the House or Senate, or both in a Joint Resolution, concerning a certain subject it cannot or does not wish to control by law. This type of legislation requires no action on the part of the Governor. Legislators can propose an amendment to the New Mexico Constitution with a joint resolution that, if passed, would be voted on by New Mexicans across the state.
- A Memorial is a formal expression of support from either the House or Senate, or both in a Joint Memorial, in the form of a petition or declaration of intent. A memorial does not have the force of law and requires no action on the part of the Governor.
These pieces of legislation are referred to a specific committee by the Speaker of the House of Representatives or the President of the Senate – the Lt. Governor. Once a piece of legislation is introduced, it is printed and made available online so that New Mexicans across the state can read them. Visit nmlegis.gov/Legislation/Bill_Finder to check out the bills that are being introduced.
How you can get involved with the Introduction of Bills:
If you have a good idea about changes you want to see in New Mexico, make sure your legislators hear from you! You can also let us know, and we’ll work to turn good ideas into bills.
CVNM is already working around the clock to promote bills and legislation that will build resilient communities, diversify our economy and protect the water we drink and air we breathe. We will need the help of Conservation Voters like you to call upon your elected leaders to support key pieces of legislation. Keep an eye on your inbox for opportunities to take action at strategic moments this legislative session.
Committees decide if the legislation should be considered by the entire House or Senate. After a bill is referred to a particular committee, they must agree by majority vote, to make changes, or pass the bill, either to the next committee, or on to the floor of the entire House or Senate if it is the last committee to which the bill has been referred- or they vote to stop the bill and it goes no further. Once a bill passes all committees, it is openly debated by the entire House or Senate body who then vote to pass, make changes or fail a bill. A bill passed in the House goes to the Senate and a bill passed in the Senate goes to the House. If passed in both chambers, the bill goes to the Governor’s desk for signing. If one chamber amends the bill, the amended bill returns for final approval to the chamber that previously passed it. For example, if the Senate passes a bill and the House changes it, that changed House version must go back to the Senate to be approved again.
We at CVNM are committed to connecting communities across the state with their political power. That means New Mexicans like you and me need to make our voices heard, especially during the legislative session where laws and changes are made with, or without, our input. Our citizen legislators need to know that we expect protections for our communities and our air, land and water. It is critical that every New Mexican knows how OUR state government works so that we know exactly how to make the changes we want.
Part 2: Committees
Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pieces of legislation are introduced at the NM State Legislature, but the 30-day or 60-day sessions don’t provide enough time for the entire legislative body of 112 legislators to fully consider all those bills. That’s where legislative committees play a vital role.
A committee is made up of a group of legislators that meet to study a bill and hold public hearings in order to recommend action to the entire legislative body. Currently, there are nine Senate Committees and 16 House Committees. When a piece of legislation gets introduced, it will get referred to one or more committees.
The bill sponsor presents their legislation to the members of the committee and answers any questions that may come up. The sponsor will often have an expert witness at their side during the presentation. An expert witness can be anybody with expert knowledge of the legislation being considered, including community members who are affected by the bill.
How you can get involved with the committee process:
- Offer Testimony: Public testimony is often a pivotal point for legislation. Our citizen legislators may have analysts and impact reports, which are often dense and fact-based documents, to inform their decisions, but testimony from everyday New Mexicans is critical. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard and directly represent your community’s needs and concerns. Public testimony during committees is your seat at the table.
- Contact Committee Members: Calling committee legislators, writing a letter to their State Capitol office or sending an email are effective ways to make your voice heard without having to step foot in the building. Keep an eye on your inbox! We send out action alerts when your voice is needed to contact legislators and remind them to protect our communities, our air, land and water.
Committee legislators will usually have expertise in a certain area. For example, CVNM-endorsed freshman legislators Melanie Stansbury and Abbas Akhil were placed in the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee for their expertise in the fields of science and engineering. The expertise in each committee is essential since they are tasked with recommending action to the rest of the legislature.
After a period of public testimony and questions, a committee may vote and recommend that a bill:
- Do Pass: The committee agrees that the bill is ready to be considered and debated by the next committee or entire legislative body.
- Do Pass as Amended: The committee agrees that the bill can move forward as long as it includes the changes, referred to as amendments, made by the committee.
- Do Not Pass: The committee agrees that the bill should not pass and the bill should not move further. This is known as ‘killing a bill’ and can also be done with a ‘motion to table.’ Often, committee chairs will refuse to schedule certain bills, which means the bill can’t move further.
Part 3: Third Reading and Final Passage
If a piece of legislation receives a ‘Do Pass’ from all of its assigned committees, it moves to the final step of its legislative journey: Third Reading. During Third Reading, a bill returns to the chamber where it was originally introduced – either in the House or the Senate – and is considered by that entire chamber. The House Floor or Senate Floor put the bill on final passage and open up debate for all members. Amendments (changes that add, remove or substitute portions of the bill) may also be introduced, debated and voted on. Any amendments that receive a majority vote are adopted and become attached to the original bill. Amendments that do not receive a majority vote are rejected and debate continues on the original bill without any changes.
Legislators vote to either pass or fail a bill by majority vote. Bills that do not receive a majority vote fail and do not move any further in the process. On rare occasions, legislators may ask that a bill be returned to a committee or referred to a new committee for further deliberation before a final vote is cast.
Any bill that passes in the House is sent over to the Senate to be introduced, referred to Senate committees and then put on final passage on the Senate Floor. Similarly, bills that pass in the Senate are sent over to the House to be introduced, referred to House Committees and put on final passage on the House Floor. If a bill manages to pass both the House and Senate, the bill gets sent to the Governor’s desk for action.
However, any amendments made to a bill after it has passed either the House or Senate must be approved by the chamber that introduced the original bill. A bill may only move forward if there is concurrence, or agreement, on the changes between both chambers. If the legislators cannot concur, both chambers appoint a few members to a conference committee to meet and discuss changes and possible solutions to get the bill to the Governor’s desk.
How to get involved with Floor Votes:
Our citizen legislators depend on everyday New Mexicans like you and me to help guide their vote. While public comment is not part of the full floor debates, keep an eye on your inbox: we will be sending out action alerts when critical legislation is about to hit the floor in either the House or Senate. We can secure a favorable outcome for good legislation, and ensure bad legislation fails, by calling or visiting our elected leaders, writing letters to the editor about specific legislation and sharing our stories with legislators to inform their important decisions.
Part 4: The Governor
After a bill passes both the House and Senate, the bill is sent to the Governor’s desk. The Governor can:
- Sign the bill and it becomes law.
- Reject, or veto, the bill. The legislature may override a veto with a ⅔ majority vote in each chamber.
- Take no action. The Governor has 20 days after the legislative sessions ends to act on bills awaiting a signature. Any items not signed after the 20-day period are rejected via pocket-veto.
Now that you are on expert on the New Mexico legislative process, don’t miss out on opportunities to engage in the legislative process and advocate for legislation that will protect communities, our air, land and water.