SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The legislative session is less than two months away and the Roundhouse will open once again to the public but there will be new COVID-19 restrictions in place. While members of the public will need to show proof of vaccination to sit in on the legislative session, lawmakers will not.
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“I’m very excited that the Capitol will once again be open to members of the public,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, who serves District 11 in Bernalillo County and serves as the Democratic Majority Floor Leader. “This year, we expect members of the public to be able to come back, to be able to partake in the process.”
However, the return to the Roundhouse comes with some big changes. On Tuesday, the New Mexico Legislative Council unveiled plans for the upcoming sessions where any member of the public will need proof of full vaccination before they can come through the doors. Representatives and senators are exempt, as the council says they have a constitutional duty to represent their districts and constituents and can’t be excluded from fulfilling that duty. But some lawmakers don’t agree with the changes.
“Although lawmakers are exempt, regardless of your vaccination status, I can assure you that New Mexico state government is going to continue to collect taxes from everyone, everywhere,” said Sen. Crystal Diamond, who serves District 35 in Southern New Mexico. “I think this mandate is less about public safety and more about politics.”
Diamond, a Republican, says that alone should qualify every taxpayer to have access to the Roundhouse, regardless of vaccine status. Democrats like Martinez say virtual options like Zoom will still give the public full access to the session.
“The House and the Senate have adopted measures and really I think gained a great deal of expertise using these technologies to allow for members of the public not just to participate but to really be active in the process,’ said Martinez. “Last year, even on Zoom, we had record participation from New Mexicans all over the state who were able to zoom from the comfort of their own home.”
However, Diamond says visitors aren’t the only ones impacted by the changes. Legislative staff that helps during the session also fall under these restrictions.
“Many of us have gone out and made arrangements for our legislative assistants and staff that assist us just during that legislative time period,” said Diamond. “We just found out that many of them now will not be allowed to enter the Capitol which puts us at a disadvantage in going out and hiring analysts and secretaries and all the other staff positions that assist us and are so essential to good governance up there.”
It’s unclear just yet how some lawmakers will navigate the staff hurdle. Despite reopening the Roundhouse, the Capitol’s Rotunda will also not be used for displays or presentations. Masks will also still be required in the complex.
These changes will go into effect on Dec. 6 as the redistricting special session begins. Also changing in early December — weapons will not be allowed in the Roundhouse. People entering the Capitol may have to go through a metal detector or have their bags searched.