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Local lawmakers propose session on governor’s emergency powers

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, pictured above speaks at a meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women in November. Nibert and some other local legislators have expressed support for initiating an extraordinary session to limit Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s emergency powers. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Some lawmakers representing House and Senate districts in Chaves County say the Legislature should meet before their next regularly scheduled session to curtail the emergency powers of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

As of Saturday, 22 Republicans in the New Mexico House of Representatives and seven senators have lent their signatures to an online petition calling for an extraordinary session of the New Mexico Legislature to be convened, according to Nmextraordinarysession.com, a website established by proponents of the proposal.

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia; Roswell state Reps. Phelps Anderson, Candy Ezzell and Greg Nibert; and state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, also of Roswell, are among the signatories.

The Constitution of the state of New Mexico empowers the Legislature to call itself into an extraordinary session if three-fifths of members in both the House and Senate agree to do so.

Ezzell, who is chair of the House Republican caucus, said the push for such a session is borne of frustration of what she characterizes as a usurpation of the power of the Legislative branch by Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.

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“I think the impetus behind this is we are fed up with her having all the control,” Ezzell said.

She cites as an example allegations that Lujan Grisham authorized $30 million in emergency spending in response to the pandemic without legislative approval.

The proposal for an extraordinary session is part of a months-long push by Republicans, in which they have assailed Lujan Grisham for issuing and modifying emergency public health orders aimed at limiting the spread of the virus. The orders have included restrictions on the operation of businesses, schools and other entities and require face coverings in public settings.

Lujan Grisham’s office has repeatedly maintained the orders are within the governor’s authority under the current health emergency and have saved lives. Critics though say those orders are excessive and have resulted in economic pain for small businesses and impinged on the rights of individuals.

An extraordinary session, Nibert said, would enable he and his colleagues to weigh in on how the state should deal with the pandemic.

“I have said from the beginning that the Legislature needs to weigh in on the emergency because it has been extended for so long and impacted every corner of the state,” he said.

The only way that can happen, Nibert said, is if the Legislature is in session and able to help set the direction of the state’s response to the pandemic.

Lujan Grisham, Nibert said, has excluded legislators and failed to consult with them on any of her actions related to the pandemic, something that he said is an affront to the Legislature.

If the governor does not call lawmakers into a special session to deal with the issue, he said, legislators should call themselves into session.

Nibert added legislation he has written to limit the length of an emergency declaration by the governor to 30 days unless that authority is extended by the Legislature, is currently being reviewed by some of his Democratic colleagues.

He said they have expressed an openness to considering taking it up during the upcoming regular session.

The bar for calling an extraordinary session is high. Democrats currently hold a 46-24 majority in the House and a 26-16 majority in the Senate. So far, no Democrats have signed the petition.

“If we don’t get at least 10 Democrats in the Senate, we can’t do it,” said Sen. Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, who has not signed the petition.

To succeed, Republicans would need all of their members plus 18 House Democrats and 16 Senate Democrats.

A spokesperson for Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, did not respond to a request for comment on a special session before press time Saturday.

Ingle, who has been in the Senate since 1985, said 2002 was the only time an extraordinary session had been called. That was about a budget dispute with then-Gov. Gary Johnson.

Support for that session was bipartisan, with lawmakers getting the necessary three-fifths signatures within 18 hours. That is something he said does not seem realistic this time around.

State Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said while she agrees with the intent of those who want an extraordinary session and is not opposed to it, there is no indication any Democrats would be willing to support it.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Republicans to make that happen,” she said.

Time might be better spent concentrating on the coming election, Kernan said.

“I think my efforts at this point are trying to elect more Republicans in November where we can actually have the numbers we need to be relevant,” she said.

Lawmakers who have signed the petition also concede the chances for an extraordinary session are slim.

State Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, who has spearheaded the effort, said he hopes the idea can gain enough popularity that Democrats representing areas that depend heavily on tourism and have suffered as a result of the governor’s orders will be pressured to sign on.

However, Kernan said, a better approach might have been for proponents of an extraordinary session to first garner the support of their Democratic colleagues before going public.

Still, despite the long odds, some lawmakers say they will try anyway. Townsend said he added his name at the urging of his constituents.

“And I looked at it and even though I believe it is a long shot, it was worth trying to do because my constituents wanted to try,” Townsend said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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