This article has been updated to include the governor’s quote, response from Luján, and video of the incident.
House Speaker Ben Luján abruptly adjourned tonight’s session and walked off the floor, ignoring objections, after he delayed an attempt to hear a bill that would outlaw giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Andy Nuñez, I-Hatch, made a motion to bring his House Bill 78 directly to the floor, taking it out of a committee that has already tabled it. The rare procedural move, called “blasting,” is a way to bypass the committee process with a majority vote on the House floor.
A blasting move, if approved by the majority of House members, brings a bill directly to the House floor for immediate consideration.
The speaker said he would delay consideration of Nuñez’s motion until Thursday morning. The House had already spent hours today debating the budget and film incentives. Some members called out their objection of the delay, but Luján ignored them as chaos ensued.
There was a motion to adjourn, and Luján ruled that the “ayes” won the vote over the “nays.”
Many Republican members voiced their objections, and one called out a challenge to the speaker’s ruling, which would normally have led to a role-call vote on whether to adjourn. Ignoring the objections, the speaker instead walked off the House floor.
Nuñez wasn’t giving up.
“It’s not over. We’ll do it again tomorrow,” he told NMPolitics.net.
Republicans remained on the floor, stunned, following adjournment.
Nuñez’s bill is one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s top priorities for the session. Martinez was quick to lash out at the speaker.
“It’s outrageous that Speaker Ben Luján broke House rules to block an up-or-down vote on the bill to repeal driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants,” Martinez told NMPolitics.net. “It’s tactics like this that cause the public to lose faith in its elected leaders.”
“Come tomorrow morning, every House member will make a choice – either stand with Speaker Luján and support driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, or stand with New Mexicans and repeal this dangerous law,” Martinez said.
Does Nuñez have the votes?
The question now is whether Republicans and Nuñez have two Democrats willing to join their cause and give them the necessary 36 votes to bring the bill to the floor. Sources said they did have the votes.
But Lujan is a master at twisting arms, and sources expect him to spend this evening and tomorrow morning working members to try to kill Nuñez’s attempt.
Martinez will also be lobbying. The governor has caused controversy with her heavy lobbying effort for the bill that has included radio ads paid for by her campaign and robocalls from the state GOP. Phone lines in the offices of Democrats in the House have been flooded with calls urging passage of the legislation.
The issue hasn’t gained any traction in the Senate, but House passage of Nuñez’s bill might put additional pressure on senators to act.
Last year, an Albuquerque Journal poll that found that 72 percent of New Mexicans oppose the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Updated, 8:30 p.m.
Here’s video of the entire incident, courtesy of the governor’s office:
Update, 10:55 p.m.
In a news release, Luján said he complied with House rules.
“According to House Rules, a motion to adjourn takes precedence over all other motions, including the one made by Rep. Nuñez,” the release states. “After a voice vote on the motion to adjourn was taken, it was clear that the vote was in favor of adjournment.”
I wasn’t present for the vote in Santa Fe, but it didn’t sound from the official House webcasting or the governor’s recording that the vote was in favor of adjournment. It didn’t sound clear either way.
More from the release:
“Speaker Luján expressed concern over inflammatory comments made by Governor Martinez shortly after the vote. ‘It is unfortunate that Governor Martinez chose to issue inflammatory statements to the media that questioned the motives of the House and provided an inaccurate interpretation of House rules,’ Lujan said. ‘The people of New Mexico are not served by this kind of behavior. I only wish that our new governor was as willing to engage the Legislature in constructive discussions regarding the serious public policy issues facing our state as she is to drumming up a media frenzy by issuing misleading and inappropriate comments.’”