Rep. Christine Chandler speaks during LWV/AAUW Legislative Preview. Los Alamos Reporter Screenshot
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler just made chair of the House Taxation & Revenue Committee in the Legislature, she announced during last week’s virtual 2022 Legislative Preview hosted by the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos and the American Association of University Women. Her announcement drew applause from attendees.
Sen. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales congratulated Chandler noting that Taxation & Revenue is a very important committee on which he had served for 16 years as vice chair when he was in the House.
“I know the detail of what goes in there. I know that you will do a really good job in that committee,” he said.
Chander said she will be focused for the next 30 days frankly on how to be chair of a complicated and heavily watched committee.
“That will be one of my legislative priorities – trying to get that down in a way that is fair to all members as well as inclusive of the public, and working closely with members of the public so that they can participate as well,” she said.
During the event, Chandler outlined some changes at the Roundhouse saying that some of them are good but also a little disappointing.
“A few months ago we banned firearms in the Roundhouse. Members of the public will not be allowed to bring in their firearms, which occasionally they would do, particularly on days we were talking about gun safety legislation. As a consequence there are now metal detectors in the Roundhouse and I find that disappointing in a sense. We were one of the few state legislatures that were able to avoid that for a very long time but that is no longer the case,” she said.
Chandler noted that members of the public will be asked to provide proof of vaccination status before being admitted into the area and that she imagines there will be some other kinds of restrictions with mask-wearing certainly mandatory as required by the governor’s health mandate.
“I would expect that there may be some capacities placed on committee rooms where we don’t want too many people in too close proximity, to follow basic health and safety standards of our day. The House will allow virtual participation in committee hearings. We’re going to try and make that a continuing option. Many people found that a helpful way to participate so we’re going to continue that regardless of the COVID situation. But legislators in most cases will be expected to attend the meetings and sessions live,” she said.
Because this is a 30-day session, Chandler said the agenda is limited to budget appropriation and revenue bills, constitutional amendments and those items that the governor chooses to place on the “call” or in a message from the governor.
“We know that certain bills are going to get messages. Sometimes it’s hard to get a message. I spend a lot of time calling staff members and a lot of my colleagues trying to get the favorable ear of the governor’s staff and department heads,” she said.
Chandler said her priority for the session is getting House Joint Resolution 1 (Public Assistance for Household Services) passed. HJR 1 was filed on January 3 and is cosponsored by Chandler and Rep. Anthony Allison from the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area.
“It’s a bill that is a repeat. Last year I worked with Rep. Allison on essentially the same constitutional amendment. What it would do if enacted by the voters, is it would create an exception to the Anti-Donation Clause that would allow the state to provide more direct assistance to households to ensure that they have access to what we’re calling essential Household Services, which are defined as internet, energy, water and waste water. What prompted this constitutional amendment last year was my work on the broadband bills that passed this last session,” Chandler said. “I was one of the co-sponsors of HB 10 which created the broadband council, a broadband fund and mechanisms for funding access to broadband to accelerate the development of broadband infrastructure in the state.”
While working on the broadband issue, Chandler and other legislators learned that the state’s IT Division and the Transportation Department and other departments in the state feel constrained in how direct they can be in supporting broadband development.
“This is because the Anti-Donation Clause prohibits state agencies and local governments from providing direct monetary or things of value to private individuals without some sort of agreement for services and so on. Our state continues to be a very poor state and there are many residents who cannot afford internet hookups or even afford essential services such as sewer hookups and electric hookups. This Anti-Donation Clause amendment is intended to provide us a tool that we can use as we move forward to develop legislation that will assist us in assisting members of the public who need access and it’s intended to help facilitate the development of infrastructure across the state, particularly for those people who are low income and have not been able to so yet,” she said.
Last year, the bill passed in the House and two committees in the Senate but it got tangled up in the Senate, Chandler said.
“It will take a lot of lifting but it’s a very popular bill and it appears to be gaining traction,” Chandler said. “The internet providers are very interested in the bill because it will facilitate their working with the state in terms of developing broadband across the state. My hope is there will be a broad coalition of stakeholders interested in promoting that bill which will interest Rep. Allison and me as we move forward.”
Chandler also has a tax deduction bill that is intended to support large scale renewable energy storage. She also has two labor-related bills that she says are mostly technical fixes that are intended to fill gaps that involve state collective bargaining as well as prevailing wage. I
“You’re all probably hearing that we have a lot of money right now. The last time I heard, and maybe the number is different now, about a week ago it was $1.6 billion more money above our last year’s budget. That’s not counting the federal monies that we’re getting from American Federal Rescue Act Plan and the other programs that have been enacted in the last six months or so in Congress,” she said. “In a way it’s a blessing and a curse because it’s not a realistic amount of money in terms of sustainability. We know we are not going to be sustaining those kinds of surpluses so the directions I think most of us are looking at are investments in infrastructure – one-time or short-term expenses – that might include improving the state’s computer systems, certainly there’s a lot of money going to roads, broadband.”
Chandler said she feels this has to be kept in mind because all this funding is not going to last forever.
“Certainly the appropriators and House Appropriations & Finance Committee Chair Patricia Lundstrom is very cognizant of that and very mindful of being prudent. The goal is to keep very high reserves. Last I heard that was going to be set around 30 percent because we know we cannot count on those funds forever. I would caution people not to be thinking in terms of long-term; that is not sustainable for our future and we have to continue looking for ways to replace those revenues as we move forward,” she said.
Chandler noted that there will be a “crime package” and several bills have already been filed.
“Some I think I can support; some I’m likely not to support. The most controversial of these bills will likely be what they’re calling the ‘pretrial release conditions’. It creates a presumption that people charged with certain crimes are likely to be dangerous to society and so on, and it shifts the burden of proof from the state to the defendant in terms of their ability to be released. That one will be looked at very, very carefully,” she said.
The governor has proposed a .25 percent cut in state gross receipts tax, Chandler said, and that will be looked at in the Taxation & Revenue Committee. “I think there is going to be what people politely refer as ‘return to work’ legislation or what others refer to as ‘double-dipping’. There will be bills that will allow people who are retiring on their (Public Employees Retirement Association) to come back after a short period of time, collect their retirement and continue to collect a state salary. I think that has a potential for being controversial,” she said.