SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Some New Mexico lawmakers are calling for the removal of the chain-linked fencing that currently surrounds the Roundhouse. The fencing was put up as a precaution following the deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“We’ve seen a call to arms by groups wanting to protest and invade state capitols all throughout the country,” House Speaker Brian Egolf told KRQE News 13 at the time the fencing was going up. At the time, he said there were credible threats made towards lawmakers.
However, with no reported incidents at the capitol in Santa Fe, and with the Presidential inauguration and President’s Day passed, Sente Republican leader Greg Baca said it’s time for the fencing to come down.
“I think if we don’t have any credible evidence, of some sort of threat, you know, there’s no reason to have that fear. We can take it down,” Sen. Baca said. “So that people can actually engage around the Capitol. Sometimes they gather in front. You know, they have messages they want to give to us and it’s their right.” Baca also said it’s expensive.
In a letter to House Speaker Egolf and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, he along with other GOP leaders said between the fencing and other measures like increased law enforcement personnel, they said the heightened security measures cost New Mexicans $33,000 a day.
However, the Director of Legislative Council Service, Raul Burciaga, said that may not be the case. He said that number is an estimate, from dividing the $2 million appropriated for security measures by 60, for the 60 days in the legislative session. He said not all the money appropriated may be used and that they won’t know the final cost of the heightened security measures until the end of the session when they get billed by different entities.
Still, the cost is a concern for Sen. Baca. “Every dollar that we spend in Santa Fe is a dollar that has been earned by a taxpayer and paid into the government,” Sen. Baca said. The Roundhouse was already closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the letter, lawmakers say the fencing still perpetuates the impression that public participation in the legislative process is not welcome.
“It is the people’s house. We should not be locking the people out of their house and so we should give them as much access as possible,” Sen. Baca said. “If we went back to normal security as of immediately, I would be all for that.”
Baca said the extra law enforcement personnel used to guard the Roundhouse could be better used in other parts of the state where they’re needed. New Mexico State Police said 56 state police officers guard the Roundhouse in rotating shifts. In the 2019 60-day session, 45 state police officers were assigned to work the session in rotating shifts. Burciaga couldn’t say how many officers from different departments are at the Roundhouse but said they come from all over the state and work on a rotation process.
Burciaga also said it is unclear if he or Speaker Egolf and President Pro Tem Stewart have the power to take down the facing and said it will be discussed. KRQE News 13 also reached out to Speaker Egolf and President Pro Tem Stewart but did not hear back.