SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Since the pandemic hit in New Mexico, the governor has been calling the shots from what can stay open and what should be closed. The governor can even decide how some emergency money is spent. Lawmakers want more say when it comes to public health emergencies.
For almost a year, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has been issuing public health orders to combat the coronavirus. From mask-wearing to business limitations and even where emergency funds should be spent. The governor has been the key decision-maker on these health orders but there’s now a bipartisan push for legislators to have more say. “The issue that has impacted every new Mexican for the last 10 months without any legislative involvement has been a concern to me,” said Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell).
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“We’re the ones that appropriate money, we should have some measure of control over what’s happening and we’ve given that up that control- that’s not the governor’s fault, that’s our fault and we need to. And I kind of agree with the term ‘clawback’ because in this situation I believe it’s the accurate term, we’ve got to claw back our power,” said Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales).
State law says public health emergencies expire after 30 days but can be renewed by the governor. In the bill, public health emergencies would expire after 90 days unless the governor calls the legislature into a special session. From there, state lawmakers would decide on extending, suspending, or amending the public health emergency. “This is no criticism of the governor but I also believe we have a responsibility to our constituents that we should be part of this decision-making process,” said Rep. Doreen Y. Gallegos (D-Majority Whip).
Not everyone is on board with House Bill 139. ” I would just feel so much better about exerting authority if we actually held it in structure,” said Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque). Ultimately, the committee passed the bill on a 7-to-1 vote and it now heads to the House judiciary.
KRQE News 13 asked the governor’s office for comment on the bill and they sent the following statement:
Nationwide, we have seen clearly that states have dramatically benefited from being able to take immediate action to manage the pandemic, including New Mexico. The governor’s ability to respond quickly to the pandemic has saved lives. As the last 11 months have demonstrated, it’s important than a governor have the flexibility and authority to take immediate action to prevent loss of life in any public health emergency or emergency in which New Mexican lives are endangered. That’s what the people elect a leader to do. And that’s why these state laws authorizing this executive decision-making in an emergency are in place.
It’s also worth pointing out that this pandemic did not resolve itself within fourteen days, or 28 days, or a month. In fact, of course, it’s still going on. With a part-time legislature that convenes once a year, it is difficult to conceive the benefit of restricting an executive’s authority to respond with speed using evidence-based policies to protect New Mexicans in an emergency.