Jan. 18--State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, will chair the Senate Conservation Committee. The two-term senator, who previously served four years in the state House of Representatives, said Thursday that the committee's work is important to Santa Fe and the state.
"Water, energy, the impact of climate change -- all are critical issues in any discussion of New Mexico's future," he said.
He is among three new chairmen who will lead Senate committees, including ones dealing with the high-profile issues of education and health care, during the Legislature's 60-day session.
The Senate panel that determines the makeup of Senate committees on Thursday announced the chairmen and chairwomen, as well as the members of all the panels. Despite turnover in the top-ranking Senate leadership post this session, there wasn't a massive reshuffling of committee chairmen. Five senators are returning to the committee leadership jobs they previously held.
Newly elected Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, a Las Cruces Democrat, said the leadership tried to maintain continuity by keeping committee chairmen in place when possible.
Much of the work of the Legislature is done in committees, and chairmen exert considerable influence by determining when legislation is considered in their panels.
Wirth said that since his early years in the Legislature, he's worked on a committee that deals with water issues when the body isn't in session.
Another Santa Fe-area senator, Phil Griego, D-San Jose, will remain chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. He's also a member of the Conservation Committee. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, will keep her seat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Wirth also will be a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He had served as co-chairman of the panel before he was appointed to Conservation.
Nearly a third of state senators who took office this week at the Capitol are freshmen, due to a large number of former senators not seeking re-election or being defeated at the ballot box. Therefore, there were several new committee leadership positions up for grabs.
Sen. John Sapien, a Corrales Democrat who runs an insurance business, was named chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He succeeds longtime school administrator Cynthia Nava of Las Cruces, who didn't run for re-election. Sapien had been vice chairman of the panel, which will be critical for the legislative agenda of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who's pushing several school-improvement measures.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, will take the reins of the Public Affairs Committee. Its responsibilities include health care measures. He succeeds Democrat Dede Feldman of Albuquerque, who didn't seek re-election. New Mexico plans to establish a state-run health-insurance exchange. The Martinez administration has maintained that no legislation is necessary for the exchange, but Attorney General Gary King has questioned whether changes in state health care laws are needed.
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