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Lawmaker seeks input about legislative session plans

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Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, is expressing concerns about how the 2021 legislative session could be conducted, and she asked Chaves County commissioners and other officials to let her know by Thursday if they also had qualms.

She said that legislators were told Friday during an online meeting that a session is still planned to begin Jan. 19, but that the State Capitol likely will be closed to the general public due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Public participation might be allowed primarily by remote means. A few members of the public would be allowed to attend committee meetings that would occur at the Santa Fe Convention Center or other alternative sites that would allow for social distancing.

“I was very concerned about what this could do to my constituents back home,” she said. “I told them I would not vote that day (Friday). I think my constituents of my district have a right to have input on it.”

She said she plans to talk with mayors of Chaves County municipalities and officials with school boards and senior centers to see what their thoughts are about the plans.

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“I know that Chaves County is very represented whenever we are in session,” she said. “I look at the Capitol building as being the people’s house. I think if we are going to be there, the public has the right to be there.”

She said there are several concerns including that a primarily virtual session could be troublesome. She said she has experienced a lot of technological issues when participating in online meetings. Commissioner Robert Corn, a former state legislator, said he wanted to know what will happen to the “jacketed” bill, which is the printed, official form of the bill used to verify that all amendments and changes have occurred, with Ezzell agreeing that “security of bills” was another of her concerns.

Ezzell also mentioned that one idea discussed was for the Legislature to meet only briefly to approve a budget and to reconvene at a different time to decide about other legislative issues. This year’s session is due to be a 60-day session.

Commissioner Dara Dana said that she agreed with Ezzell that the Capitol is meant to be open and accessible to the public.

“The Roundhouse is the people’s house and what they do in that house needs to be transparent and the people of this state need to know what is happening in that house,” Dana said.

Ezzell also noted that using the convention center is expected to cost $750,000 to $800,000, plus about $20,000 for parking for legislators and additional cleaning and prep costs.

“It looks to me that Santa Fe once again is going to get a bit from whatever the Legislature does,” she said.

Legislators advocating for virtual meetings, alternative sites and limited access to the Roundhouse have said that such options are intended to ensure public health and safety and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.