Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.

Regulatory reformers will find red tape a formidable opponent
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            Hotels would have been required to place condoms in rooms, along with an informational pamphlet, to prevent the spread of AIDS. This was the goal of a bill in the 1989 legislative session. Sens. Billy McKibben and Les Houston, both Republicans, argued that it would save lives.
            “It’s here with us,” Houston said of the disease. “It’s not going to go away.”
            The New Mexico Hotel and Motel Association objected, saying parents would not want to explain to kids the two objects (the bill required two) sitting next to the soap.
            There’s no shortage of bonehead legislation, laws and regulations. Bills start with the best intentions, but the process ends with regulations that can be benign, annoying or costly. The worst are a barrier to economic growth.
            Late last month the governor announced an order to streamline the state’s regulatory system as part of the 20-year Strategic Plan. Her order directs the state Regulation and Licensing Department to work with the Economic Development Department to review rules and regulations and “identify opportunities for updates, simplifications or repeals that will streamline the regulatory system -- and ultimately deliver the most business-friendly environment while maintaining the protection of public health and safety,” said a news release.
            For decades business groups have been pleading for regulatory reform. Governors and lawmakers have tried to respond.
            In 2007 the House asked for a task force on regulatory reform to make recommendations on administrative rulemaking, licensing, enforcement and adjudication processes. Interim committee meetings that year supported regulatory reform. At one meeting, a lawmaker from the northwest said pit rules were killing the oil and gas industry, and the heavily regulated dairy industry said it needed a fair, consistent and predictable regulatory process.
            In 2008, a Senate bill proposed creating a regulatory process task force to review model legislation, look at rule making and accountability systems in other states and decide if legislative action might improve the state’s process.
            For years the Association of Commerce and Industry, now called the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, had nursed regulatory reform bills. Despite ACI’s support, the measure died in committee.
            “Opponents seem to fear that a look under our regulatory veil might be the first step in leaving polluters wild in the streets,” I wrote that year. “We need to have this discussion.”
            One major obstacle to regulatory reform: To one group reform spells relief; to another, it’s a headache.
            In 2010 Susana Martinez campaigned on reducing regulation and red tape. It faltered because it was overly broad and vague. And legislators had their own plans. The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee in 2011 introduced bills to streamline the Regulation and Licensing Department, improve the rule-making process and tackle regulatory overreach.
            A bipartisan bill would have established a uniform process for creating and applying rules, posting public notices, and recording and tracking results of meetings.  
            A second bill would have required agencies to fix response times for permit or license applications. Agencies then might take more than 18 months to respond. The sponsor argued, “We need to be business friendly.”
            A joint resolution sought a constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to nullify rules or regulations adopted by the administration.
            All three died. The obstacle was the dangerous divide between executive and legislative powers.
            The latest stab at regulatory reform is driven by the executive branch, with input from local governments, private industry and citizens. It will aim to “remove unnecessary burdens to professional licensing,” provide “a simpler path to entrepreneurship,” and “reduce timelines for approving construction-related permits.”
            Business groups, as always, will pick up the rope and pull. For their part, reformers in state government can’t underestimate challenges. And there is no end date.

Sherry Robinson photo

© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     11/8/21
They died for this? Voter turnout falls short of trailblazers’ hopes
By Diane Denish

Corner to Corner
            The 2021 municipal elections around New Mexico are over. A few voters spoke, but most of them didn’t.
             Voters went to the polls to elect mayors, councilors, school board members, and conservancy and water district representatives. Statewide voter turnout averaged 19.5%. With the state’s largest city’s turnout at 32%, that brings the average to 14.5% for communities outside of the metro area.  
            The accolades circulating about the record voter turnout for these elections doesn’t do justice to the long hard fight for the right to vote.
            The preamble to the Constitution states, “All men are created equal.” Even then, some were more equal than others. Only free white men over 21who owned property were allowed to vote. By 1860 the property ownership provision was removed.
            In the years that followed the fight continued for African Americans, women, Native Americans, non-English speakers, and those younger than 21. In 1869, following the brutal Civil War, a series of amendments passed, including the 15th Amendment which allowed black men to vote.
            In 1920, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote came after 80 years of struggles. Although some states, including Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho, gave women the right to vote in state elections around 1890, it took another 30 years before Congress reached that milestone. In an expression of appreciation for women’s help in World War I they removed the legal obstacle to women voting by including this language: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
            Despite progress struggles remained. Once African Americans gained the right to vote many states worked intentionally to keep them from doing so. Poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation were tactics states used to deny them their rights. Southern states included a “grandfather clause” which said you could only vote if your grandfather had voted, creating an impossible situation for those whose ancestors were slaves. This clause was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1915.
            Native Americans faced their own unique obstacle.
            The amendment giving African American men voting rights stated the right to vote “could not be denied because of race.” Native Americans, however, were still excluded because they were not citizens. It wasn’t until the Citizenship Act of 1924 admitted Native Americans born in the United States to full citizenship that they could vote.
            The act left it up to states to decide who could vote, and it was two decades later before every state allowed them to vote. Even then, Native Americans were subject to the same obstacles African Americans faced: poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation at the polls.
            Passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and subsequent legislation in the 1970s removed these restrictions, and voters’ rights were strengthened. This included changing the voting age to 18 in 1971.
            One can only imagine how those who fought for voting rights – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., and even the framers of the Constitution who believed in “the consent of the governed” would view what is happening today: Governors and legislators making it harder to voter, unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations, and the failure of 80% of eligible New Mexico voters to cast their vote at the most fundamental level – in local elections.
            Those who protested, went to jail, and died to secure the right to vote – for everyone – must be reeling in their eternal resting places when we fail them so miserably.