Home News Local News Local lawmakers sound off on upcoming legislative session

Local lawmakers sound off on upcoming legislative session

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State Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, right, raises his hand to be sworn in for another term in the New Mexico House of Representatives while his wife Ann, center, holds a Bible and U.S. District and Appeals Court Judge Joel Carson III, left, administers the oath of office during a Jan. 8 ceremony at the Chaves County Administrative Building. Anderson, who represents House District 66, which includes portions of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties, was unopposed in November when he ran for reelection. The 60-day legislative session will convene today at noon. (Alex Ross Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

New Mexico lawmakers will convene today for the start of the 2021 legislative session, one in which the COVID-19 pandemic will likely loom large. The 60-day session will begin at noon and adjourn March 20.

State Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, the House Minority Floor Leader, said Monday on opening day of the House session members will likely receive their committee assignments, cast a vote on a proposal to allow members to participate in the session virtually and pass a bill to cover expenses related to the session.

The Legislature convened for two special sessions in 2020: one in June to close a projected budget shortfall and the other in November to pass a $330 million COVID-19 relief bill.

Like in those two special sessions, the entrance to the Capitol will be restricted to lawmakers, legislative staff and members of the press to curb spread of COVID-19 and nearly all business, debates and voting will be conducted online.

Nonetheless, House Republicans said they plan to meet on the floor throughout the session, despite possible rule changes.

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State Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, right, raises her hand as she is sworn in for another term in the New Mexico House of Representatives, while her husband T. Calder Ezzell Jr., who represents District 2 on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, center, holds a Bible. U.S. District and Appeals Court Judge Joel Carson III, left, administers the oath of office during the Jan. 8 ceremony at the Chaves County Administrative Building. Candy Ezzell was unopposed in November in her bid for reelection to House District 58, which is composed of much of southern Chaves County. (Alex Ross Photo)

“We are not going to earn our per diem by sitting at home in our pajamas doing our work on the computer. We were chosen to represent each and every one of you in Santa Fe and that is what we intend to do,” state Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, said Saturday when she spoke at the Republican Party of Chaves County’s Biennial County Convention in Roswell.

The Senate, like the House, will meet today to vote on some rule changes and distribute committee assignments, before then conducting much of their business virtually, but will meet on occasion at the Roundhouse to perform certain duties.

“So it is going to be very similar to what the House is doing, except we are going to go in periodically and in person,” Pirtle said.

Many Republicans have opposed a virtual session, with some having floated the idea of delaying the session until the pandemic is better contained. Democrats have rejected that idea.

“I’m disappointed that the legislative leadership dismissed the idea of organizing Jan. 19 and then recessing for six to eight weeks while we move forward with reducing COVID-19,” he said in a Jan. 8 interview.

Critics of a virtual session say closing the Capitol during a legislative session will prevent people from coming to the Roundhouse to lobby their lawmakers and providing input on bills under consideration.

The office of House Speaker Brian Egolf said people can still reach out to their representatives through email and watch recordings or livestreams of hearings and debate on the Legislature’s website.

Townsend though said large swaths of New Mexico, including rural and tribal communities, lack dependable access to the internet.

“And they have historically come to Santa Fe and testified on bills. They can’t come to Santa Fe and they can’t connect. And so they are upset,” he said.

Local legislators said their central focus during the session will be easing restrictions imposed via state public health orders.

Townsend said for the House Republican Caucus, allowing schools to resume in-person learning will be a high priority. He said he has heard from parents and grandparents across the political spectrum who have concerns that their children’s education has suffered due to the closures.

“They don’t want their kids further behind, they want their children to have adequate education, and many parents and grandparents, across the state without regard to political affiliation, they want their kids treated equitably,” he said.

Ezzell said Jan. 8 she has heard from parents of children who had been honor roll students before the pandemic who are now at risk of failing.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said he plans to introduce for a third time a bill to curb the governor’s emergency powers.

Nibert introduced legislation during both 2020 special sessions to limit the length of an emergency declaration by the governor to 30 days, unless an extension of that authority is granted by the Legislature.

He said the legislative branch needs to have more input during emergencies that last for long periods of time.

“We’ve got to do something to reign this governor in because I don’t think our Constitution says that one person gets to make all the rules, yet that is what has happened for 10 months,” he said.

Lawmakers will also have to deal with a cash crunch in the coming fiscal year that begins in July.

In her executive budget recommendation released Jan. 11, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put forth a proposal for a budget consisting of $7.3 billion in recurring spending, representing a 3.3% increase.

Though Lujan Grisham’s office calls the increase modest and responsible in a press release about the budget, Townsend said he believes spending should be reduced and that he would oppose tax and fee increases or tapping state reserves to fill that hole.

Families and businesses, Townsend said, have had to roll back their spending and the state government should do the same.

Nibert Saturday though told a crowd at the County Convention Republicans will be limited on what they can stop from passage given the Democrats’ 45 to 25 majority in the House and their 27 to 15 Senate majority.

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