ByRobert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, Santa Fe New Mexican |
After all the concerns about a potential demonstration (or worse) interrupting the proceedings, the 2021 session of the New Mexico Legislature began quietly and peacefully Tuesday. At times, it didn’t seem like a session at all. Certainly not an opening like veterans have come to know. Yes, legislators trooped into the Capitol, but there were few others. No lobbyists.
State Sen. George Muñoz hasn’t slept very well since he found out he had been selected to serve as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, an appointment that comes with as much influence as it does responsibility. “There are people in New Mexico that need help, and we’re going to make sure that we try to get them the help they need,” said Muñoz, a 53-year-old Gallup Democrat who was officially appointed to the position Tuesday, the first day of the 2021 legislative session. “It’s different for every part of the state and for every New Mexican, so there’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s left me sleepless for a few nights,” he said. Muñoz succeeds former Sen. John Arthur Smith, a conservative-leaning Democrat from Deming who served as committee chairman for more than a decade. Smith, who lost his reelection bid to a more progressive candidate in last year’s primary, earned the nickname “Dr. No” for his refusal to fund various initiatives, even those championed by his own party, over the years.
In a court filing on Tuesday, the federal government argued that Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin should remain in custody because of the danger he poses to the public, and “a disdain for legal authority.”
Griffin is the leader of the political group Cowboys for Trump, a pro-Donald Trump group that has led protests in New Mexico and in other states, sometimes with the participation of other Republican politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (who recently deleted some social media posts and videos involving Griffin). Federal authorities arrested Griffin on Sunday over his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection where a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, overwhelming police and threatening the lives of the Vice President and members of Congress. Griffin is accused of unlawfully being inside the restricted area surrounding the U.S. Capitol. Griffin said, according to filings, that he was “caught up” in the crowd.
The 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday at noon, against a bizarre backdrop that’s never been contemplated, much less seen. The Capitol building remains surrounded by fencing, concrete barriers and blocked roads. On Monday, it was guarded by state police officers and at least a dozen National Guard soldiers, who were seen patrolling the facility and manning entrance checkpoints. The annual State of the State speech, which usually highlights the opening day of the session, is off, at least on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said it eventually will be delivered, “likely remotely,” due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.