I’ve participated in plenty of political marches over the years. But Monday’s Día de Acción was different: for the first time I didn’t just hold a sign and walk with the crowd, I benefited from real training about how to lobby legislators to support specific bills.
That’s why local chapters of Somos Un Pueblo Unido traveled from the far corners of New Mexico to converge in Santa Fe for the day. Marching to the State Capitol isn’t just symbolic. That’s where the state’s legislators are currently in session, discussing bills in committee and voting for or against them on the floor. When it comes to the brass tacks of legislating, Santa Fe is where it’s at.
If you’ve seen Schoolhouse Rock, you know how a bill becomes a law at the federal level. The process is pretty much the same here in New Mexico:
Someone writes a bill. Anyone writes a bill—an individual, an organization, a legislator.
A legislator introduces that bill to either the House (if he or she is a representative) or Senate (if he or she is a senator).
The bill is assigned to the House or Senate’s relevant committees, where groups of legislators discuss its merits and decide whether to bring it to the floor in a plenary session. If they choose not to, the bill dies in committee.
If the bill passes a vote in a plenary session of one body, it goes to the other to repeat the process—from the House to the Senate or vice versa.
If the bill also passes the second round of committees and the second floor vote, it goes to the governor to either sign or veto.
What’s not specified in that process? The role of lobbyists—that is, people who advocate for or against bills at any step along the way, pressuring legislators to act in their interest.
Anyone can lobby. For most people, the word “lobbyist” conjures the image of a suit-and-tie professional who’s paid to represent a specific interest group (an industry, a company, a nonprofit…). But if you act to influence your legislators, you’re a lobbyist, too.
Lobbying can mean calling your representatives or senators, writing letters, signing petitions, marching, rallying, attending committee meetings or plenary sessions, scheduling meetings to talk with your legislators, or literally hanging out in the lobby outside their offices so you can catch them for a few minutes to talk while they walk to their next appointment.
To lobby effectively, we don’t just describe our values or opinions in vague terms, we talk about specific bills. We tell our legislators whether we want them to advance those specific bills or kill them in committee, and whether we want them to vote for or against the bills if they make it to a plenary session.
Which brings us back to some of the bills that are up for debate in New Mexico’s 2019 legislative session.
Here’s how Olivia Harlow summed it up in her story for the Santa Fe New Mexican yesterday, “New Mexico Capitol rally focuses on workers, immigrants”:
The group outlined a variety of bills of interest, including Senate Bill 196, which would prevent state and local agencies from expending resources to enforce federal immigration law; House Bill 141, which would prohibit state agencies from disclosing sensitive information; House Bill 31, intended to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour; and Senate Bill 278, aimed to limit obstacles in maintaining a driver’s license or ID.
The legislative process can feel dense and opaque. But anyone can read the full text of any bill at any time, and monitor its progress as it advances through the legislative process (or dies along the way). Democracy!
So, I took note of the bills listed by local activists at Saturday’s Love Has No Borders panel in Albuquerque and Monday’s Día de Acción in Santa Fe. Then I did my homework and looked them up online. Here are a couple of the big ones related to immigration and the border:
SB 196: NO RESOURCES FOR FEDERAL IMMIGRATION LAW
RELATING TO FEDERAL USE OF STATE RESOURCES; PROHIBITING STATE AND LOCAL AGENCIES FROM EXPENDING RESOURCES TO ENFORCE FEDERAL IMMIGRATION LAWS; RESTRICTING AUTHORITY OF SHERIFFS AND JAILS TO HOLD FEDERAL DETAINEES; REPEALING A REFERENCE IN STATE LAW TO A REPEALED FEDERAL LAW.
HB 287: NO USE OF STATE RESOURCES FOR BORDER WALL
RELATING TO STATE RESOURCES; PROHIBITING THE USE OF STATE LAND FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OR REPLACEMENT OF A BARRIER ORDERED OR SOUGHT BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON THE STATE'S BORDER WITH MEXICO; PROHIBITING THE USE OF STATE RESOURCES TO BE USED FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OR REPLACEMENT OF A WALL OR BARRIER ON THE BORDER BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO; DECLARING AN EMERGENCY.