SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – State lawmakers sparred on Thursday over whether to delay a legislative session that traditionally starts in mid-January, potentially deferring Democratic initiatives on cannabis, abortion rights, and education funding.

Legislative leaders are weighing whether to soldier on with the session in January by moving committee meetings to a spacious convention center to allow greater social distancing and accommodate public participation.

But some Democrats and Republicans would prefer a delay in response to surging coronavirus infections statewide. In a statement Thursday, Republican House minority leader Jim Townsend of Artesia advocated for a delay of the 2021 legislative session until spring in hopes of greater public participation then.

“If New Mexicans are being told to skip Thanksgiving and Christmas with family members because of the risk, then we can surely delay the session,” Townsend said in the statement. Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf said it is crucial for the Legislature to meet on-time about pandemic relief efforts, and that arrangements are being made for meaningful public input.

“Our communities cannot afford a delay,” Egolf said in a statement. At least one legislator has contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

The Statehouse was closed to the public and lobbyists during a special session in June in which some Republican senators declined to wear masks. New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest daily count of confirmed COVID-19 cases and one of the highest daily death counts since the pandemic began. Health officials reported an additional 1,753 cases to push the statewide tally to more than 60,770. Eighteen newly confirmed deaths were reported.

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