June 9, 2020

Closed door special session will take place next weekend

Members of the Legislative Council, on a videoconference call on Tuesday, outlined guidelines for the upcoming special session.

The special session will take place on June 18, and will look drastically different than past sessions because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for precautions.

The Roundhouse will be closed to the public, though media who wish to cover the proceedings in person will be able to attend, and staff and legislators will observe social distancing protocols. All committee hearings and floor sessions will be webcast.

Staff will have personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the state capitol, New Mexico Legislative Council Director Raul Burciaga told the legislators.

Other staff will work off-site, but will be available to talk to legislators via phone or video calls.

As for the legislative session itself, each chamber will decide its own rules on how the session will take place, including on off-site participation and social distancing rules during floor and committee hearings.

All employees will also be required to undergo a COVID-19 test before the start of the special session to enter the Roundhouse. Legislators will not be required to undergo a test, but will be highly encouraged to do so.

“We should err on the most cautious side,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque said. He said it would “set the right tone.”

“I think it’s really important that we all, as a body here, send the signal to New Mexicans about how important it is to do everything possible when we are in a setting like this to do the social distancing, the masks and the testing,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said.

All of this comes as the special session, to address the dire budget situation caused by plummeting oil and gas prices, combined with lower gross receipts taxes because of the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, approaches. The special session will take place on June 18 and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she expected it would be a relatively short session, taking place over the weekend.

The Legislative Council also said that standing committees would be able to meet the day before the special session. The Senate Finance Committee, House Appropriations and Finance Committee and Senate Rules Committee are expected to meet on June 17. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf said the House Rules Committee also may meet on that day.

State Police will also be at the capitol in case of any protest, as Black Lives Matter protests have taken place in hundreds of cities throughout the country, including at state capitols. Protesters had marched to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Monday, as part of a nationwide protest organized by Public Defenders for Racial Justice. Other protests also took place at the state capitol.

The Legislative Finance Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss the budget situation.