SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico lawmakers have a game plan for how they plan to hold a special legislative session to fix the state budget, all while keeping the coronavirus out of the Roundhouse. In a meeting Tuesday morning, lawmakers outlined the rules for the upcoming session, including limiting who can enter the normally public facility.
Senators and representatives on the state’s Legislative Council voted unanimously Tuesday to keep the Roundhouse closed to the public for the special session, which is slated to begin next week, on Thursday, June 18. Lawmakers need to trim an estimated $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion from the state budget amid a downturn in oil and other tax revenues during the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the state constitution, lawmakers need to meet in-person to vote on balancing the budget. To do that, the legislative staff is expected to be part of a mass testing effort.
“The directors, chief clerks, and leadership staff agree to require all staff to be tested, we’re going to provide information about testing sites around the state and questionnaire that Dr. David Scrase suggested we could use,” said Raul Burciaga, director of Legislative Council Services. “Possibly taking temperatures are the door every day, of course, will be using COVID-safe practices like, masks, six-foot distancing, people handwashing, we’re going to have hand sanitizer throughout the building.”
While the Roundhouse will be closed to the public during the special session, committee meetings, floor hearings and votes will be live-stream broadcast on the internet. No one outside of lawmakers, legislative staff and some media will be allowed inside in the Roundhouse during the session.
The public closure is far different from what normally happens during regular and special sessions. Usually, the Roundhouse is packed with press conferences, protests, and rallies held inside common areas and meeting rooms.
All legislative staff running the session will be asked to get tested then fill out a questionnaire about their potential exposure. Lawmakers aren’t mandating tests for themselves over the fear of what complications may arise with barring a potentially COVID-positive lawmaker from the session. Lawmakers technically serve at the will of the voters and are not employees of the state.
“While we can’t mandate this, I just really think it’s 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,” said Democrat Senator Peter Wirth, the Senate Floor Majority leader from Santa Fe.
Lawmakers are instead encouraging each other to get tested. Legislative staff says its working with the Department of Health to effort a group testing effort to take place shortly before the session begins.
“It seems to me that we should just air on the most cautious side and that just you know, for our own health and safety and all the employees, want to make sure that the employees of the legislature, also, and staff are taken care of,” said Senator Michael Padilla, a Democrat representing Albuquerque.
The session is slated to start on Thursday, June 18. Lawmakers are also preparing for the possibility of protests and rallies related to George Floyd to take place outside the Roundhouse. New Mexico State Police will be tasked with security around the capitol building.