- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A contentious right-to-work bill was assigned to three committees Thursday over the objection of Republicans, who were unsuccessful in forcing a hearing before the full Senate.

A routine referral vote to committees turned into an early showdown on the bill between Republicans and Democrats after Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle offered a motion to bypass the panels and take the matter straight to the upper chamber.

The Portales Republican’s motion failed 25-17 on a party-line vote.

The GOP-controlled House passed the legislation 37-30 late last month. The bill, which generated hours of heated testimony and debate in House committees and on the floor, prohibits requiring workers to join a union or to pay dues as a condition of employment and includes a 50-cent-per-hour increase in the minimum wage. It would apply to public and private sectors.

The Democratic leadership in the Senate has said it’s united in stopping the legislation.

While he respected the committee process, Ingle said, right-to-work legislation was too important. “Sometimes there is an issue that affects the entire state and … this is one of them,” he said.

Referring to Ingle’s motion, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, countered: “This is a way of avoiding the committee process. I just don’t think this is the way to handle this. Under rare circumstances we have done a move like this, and I don’t think it’s good.”

Other Democrats said the process needed to be respected, while Republicans said the legislation was significant enough to warrant deviating from the routine.

“Right-to-work bills haven’t had a single hearing in committee yet, and this is the committee process we are supposed to value so much,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho. “We’re on day 44 of a 60-day session. We have a little more than two weeks left and on an issue of such vital importance, we’re going to send it to committee so it cannot be heard.”

The House-passed bill is now tentatively scheduled to be heard in the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, along with a handful of other Senate variations of it.

Jim Farrell, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said the committee will not vote that day because of testimony to be taken on several bills. A vote is expected early next week, he said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who chairs the Public Affairs Committee that will hear the bills Sunday, said he was opposed to circumventing the committee process because “the bar is being set way too low.”

“This (bill) is important to the governor and not important to the people in my district. Everybody is welcome to come on Sunday afternoon. This is not being hidden in a committee somewhere,” he said.

House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, expressed disappointment in Sanchez. Gentry said in a statement that Sanchez “continues to stonewall legislation that a vast majority of New Mexicans support. It has become crystal-clear that he is holding up the process because he’s afraid that there are enough votes on the Senate floor to pass this legislation.”

House Bill 75 was referred to the Senate committees in accordance with the chamber’s procedure, Senate Democrats said in a news release.

Sanchez said in a statement: “Short-circuiting the normal committee process shuts out the public from our debates on this important issue. That is wrong.”

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