Thursday, March 17, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 17, 2005

Here's a modest proposal for future legislation: a memorial to direct a study about the effects on state government of studies directed by the Legislature.

Every year our lawmakers pass measures that don't actually do anything but ask some state agency to study some particular issue.

Here's a sample of some of the studies that both chambers of the Legislature have agreed upon so far:

* House Joint Memorial 63, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-San Juan Pueblo, requests the State Commission of Public Records conduct a written study to document Chimayó chile's cultural, traditional and industrial connection to present ways of living in Chimayó and surrounding communities.

* House Bill 684, sponsored by Rep. Kandy Cordova, D-Belen, would ask the state Department of Health to conduct a study on gambling addiction and its relation to suicide and bankruptcies. (Because this is a bill, with an appropriation of $110,000, it would have to be signed by the governor.)

* Senate Joint Memorial 15, sponsored by Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, asks the State Parks Division to study boating safety education programs.

And here's one that feeds a paranoia I didn't even know I had:

* HJM 75, sponsored by Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, which directs the Regulation and Licensing Department to study the elevator industry. It turns out there's no state agency responsible for making sure the elevators in this state are operating or maintained correctly.

I think I'll take the stairs, at least until they do this study.

Besides the studies that have passed both chambers, there's plenty still creeping through the legislative process.

And just last week, Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, frustrated at not being able to pass her bill to ban cockfighting, said she might introduce a last-minute memorial to ask the state to study the socio-economic effects of cockfighting on the state. So far, that measure hasn't seen the light of day.

Two state cabinet secretaries interviewed Wednesday said they don't feel put upon by all these calls for studies.

"You don't have to do these studies," said Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, noting that most of them come in the form of memorials, which are non-binding. "But these express a clear legislative intent and our job is to respond."

But both Grisham and Human Services Secretary Pam Hyde said they sometimes worry whether their respective departments have the expertise needed to conduct some of the studies they are asked to conduct.

Frequently, the secretaries noted, this year's study turns into next year's legislation. This happened with the state telemarketing bill that passed the Legislature two years ago.

"These studies are usually topics that constituents have raised with legislators," Hyde said. "It's an appropriate way of raising an issue for public discussion."

St. Jeff?: Last week in this column, I quoted a recent National Review article that claimed U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman is one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election next year.

Bingaman's office responded by sending a poll conducted earlier this year by New Mexico Research and Polling Inc., that basically showed Bingaman to be pretty darn popular in this state.

According to the poll, 67 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Bingaman - 29 percent saying "very favorable," 38 percent saying "somewhat favorable." Only 14 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of the Democrat. Even a healthy majority of Republicans - 60 percent - have a favorable opinion of Bingaman, the poll said.

The same poll showed U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici to have a total of 68 percent favorable rating with 20 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican senator.

Most of the questions in the poll dealt with environmental and energy issues.

The poll was commissioned by Green and Associates, a New Mexico public-policy consulting firm, said Research and Polling president Brian Sanderoff. A random sample of 500 voters statewide were interviewed by telephone between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Sanderoff said the numbers indeed look good for Bingaman's re-election effort.

Another indication that Bingaman might not be that vulnerable, Sanderoff said, is that there is not a "long line of people" waiting to challenge him. So far only former state Sen. Tom Benavides, a perennial candidate who at various stages of his career has run as a Democrat an independent and most recently as a Republican, has said he'll challenge Bingaman.

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