SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The 2021 state legislative session kicked off Tuesday. Lawmakers are back in Santa Fe for the long 60-day session but with the pandemic, it will be very different than before. The Rotunda is a spot that is typically packed with people but because of COVID-19 health concerns, the Roundhouse will look empty during the session.
Lawmakers are expected to take care of housekeeping rules like how they want to run the session, getting sworn in, and voting on new leadership for committees and in each chamber. They’ll discuss if they want to have meetings and floor sessions virtually or in person. Over the next 60-days, lawmakers will have to figure out how to spend a roughly $7.3 billion budget. Lawmakers are expected to focus heavily on pandemic relief efforts for businesses and families as well as controversial bills like making recreational marijuana legal.
Meanwhile, there is heightened security at the Roundhouse Tuesday. Checkpoints and fencing are around the Capitol as a precaution as some lawmakers said before the session, they’ve gotten credible and specific threats of violence. Only lawmakers, legislative staff, and credential reporters are allowed in the Roundhouse right now and they’re requiring reporters to regularly get COVID-19 tests.
Lastly, the public is not allowed inside the Roundhouse for this session because of coronavirus health concerns, which is making the state’s Capitol look and feel very empty, typically it’s buzzing with visitors and lobbyists. In the chambers, they’ve even installed dividers to help protect lawmakers. Some legislators say although the public can’t come inside, they’re encouraging people to still participate remotely.
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“We are going to be working through Zooms, we’re going to be making sure people are still connected. We want to make sure we are connected with our constituents, with lobbyists, advocacy groups. Just because we have to do it in a different form, doesn’t mean we should not be having those interactions,” said Rep. Doreen Gallegos (D-Dona Ana).
Lawmakers are not required to get tested for COVID-19 but some say they will do that regularly as a precaution. The governor also postponed her state of the state address because she wants lawmakers to get settled in first. The governor will likely give that speech from a remote location.
The Roundhouse is also under intense security ahead of the presidential inauguration. For safety reasons, they will not conduct any legislative business on Wednesday and the building will be closed to everyone including staff and lawmakers.