When Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena logs into virtual committee meetings from home, she knows she might only be able to stay on until 10 a.m.

That’s because her children start their online classes then and her internet connection can’t support all the activity. Her video cuts out repeatedly, and the legislator either keeps trying to sign back in or gives up completely.

“I live in Mesilla, 10 minutes outside our state’s second-biggest city, and the only internet I can get comes through a phone line,” the Democrat said, referring to her town near Las Cruces. “There’s no broadband, no fiber optics.”

Her struggles are just one example of the challenges legislators have faced as the abnormalities of life during the coronavirus pandemic in New Mexico have extended to lawmaking.

This year, legislators have scheduled fewer interim committee meetings than normal and have held most virtually. They say both of those developments have made it more difficult to get their legislative work done ahead of next year’s session.

“There is no question that trying to prepare a legislative agenda when everyone’s meeting virtually and meeting less is hard,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth.

In Lara Cadena’s case, after 10 a.m. she often resorts to calling into her meetings by phone instead of watching through videoconference, but that makes it harder to engage with panelists and fellow legislators.

During a recent meeting of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, she wanted to ask Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase a pressing question about Medicaid funding.

“But I couldn’t see them, nor could they see me,” she said later, “which also meant when I did engage, I wasn’t able to see any reaction or response from my colleagues.”

In a separate meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Committee, Lara Cadena wanted to ask panelists a question about the topic of broadband. But she wasn’t able to pose her question.

“I wanted to talk about internet access, but I couldn’t because I was on the phone only and the chair didn’t know I wanted to speak,” she said.

In New Mexico, summer and fall are usually chock full of interim legislative meetings in which committees hear from state officials and experts as they begin crafting bills for the next session. Usually, the gatherings are held in different parts of the state, not just in Santa Fe.


Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.