New Mexico’s 2021 session is truly unprecedented. The Rio Grande Foundation has been involved in the New Mexico Legislature for more than a decade, but we’ve never seen anything like the locked down 2021 legislative session.
While we find the locked-down nature of the session has hugely-problematic, many Democrats have claimed that the “virtual” session has allowed new participants into the process.
Here’s our take on the good, bad, and ugly of the virtual 2021 session:
Good: Not commuting to Santa Fe. Unless you are from Santa Fe, not having to make your way to the Capitol is a good thing. An hour in the car each way from Albuquerque is nothing compared to up to 5 hours one way from other parts of our State. Of course, “Zoom” technology has been around for years, there is no doubt that if the Legislature was serious about hearing new voices they could have done (and we asked for) YEARS ago.
As the head of an organization that cares about a large number of bills, it is easier to track and engage with the large number of bills in committee during a “virtual” session.
BAD: Simply put, most of the useful information exchanged between legislators, advocates, and lobbyists during a legislative session comes outside of committee hearings in the halls and “lobbies” of the Roundhouse where frank, private conversations can be had and information exchanged. That is being missed and we won’t know how badly it is missed until the laws passed this session take effect.
Also, not having the Legislature open to the public just FEELS bad. Behind a chain link fence and with no public access to the people or the process, the Roundhouse goes from “the people’s house” to “no trespassing” very quickly. It really defies New Mexico values and the accessibility people once had to the process (hopefully they do again).
UGLY: Without the public in attendance and watching, will this fully “progressive” legislature feel empowered to pass any number of policies? Obviously, the last election provided the legislative majorities they need to push whatever they want. Will they hold back due to the pandemic’s impacts, budgetary uncertainty, or electoral concerns? We won’t know the answer to that until late March when the session is over.