New Mexico's 2021 legislative session had ended only about an hour before the governor said she plans to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol in the coming days.

Talk of a special session to wrap up a cannabis bill — a high priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and many Democratic lawmakers — was just the pinnacle of a dramatic end to a legislative session like no other amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There was last-minute maneuvering by House Republicans to jam up Democrats' bills, allegations of bullying in the Senate and complaints of power players obstructing bills in the final days and hours of a session held mostly via online Zoom meetings, with a security fence around a Capitol surrounded by New Mexico State Police officers and National Guard members.

The building was closed to the public during the 60-day session due the pandemic and concerns of violent protests in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. Those who were allowed inside — lawmakers, members of the media and staff — lined up at least once a week for COVID-19 tests.

There were calls by Republicans to tear down the fence.

There were COVID-19 infections. At least one unnamed GOP lawmaker was among those in the Capitol who contracted the virus.

There were other surprises, too, as lawmakers tried to conduct business as usual in a sometimes tense online session that was anything but usual:

  • A GOP petition to the state Supreme Court asking justices to block House rule changes allowing lawmakers to participate remotely. The court struck it down.
  • Charges of racism and sexism against leading senators for their lines of questioning during legislative hearings and debates.
  • An ethics complaint alleging House Speaker Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat who works as an attorney, would profit from a Civil Rights Act he supported.
  • A shift from Republican to independent for Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell, who voted to repeal an old abortion ban.

"I hope we never have another session like this in anyone's lifetime," Lujan Grisham said in a news conference Saturday after the clock ran out on the session.

Several high-profile issues — legalizing adult use of cannabis, creating an independent redistricting commission, letting voters decide if the state can draw money from a multibillion-dollar investment fund for prekindergarten programs — moved forward slowly, raising questions about whether they would cross the finish line by Saturday's deadline.

Amid the last-minute drama, Republican House members, far outnumbered by Democrats and unhappy with legislation they could not stop with votes, turned to a delaying tactic Friday.

They began debating every measure for three hours — the chamber's limit.

"One of the issues that you have in the process of the Legislature is the consumption of time," said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, an Artesia Republican, after the session ended Saturday. "And in the minority, sometimes we have to utilize it."

Egolf announced late Friday the House would work through the night, with a short recess, to get as many bills approved as possible as debates dragged on.



And then at one point, lawmakers began hustling bills through the chamber — with no debate and few "no" votes.

Townsend said House Democrats and Republicans had brokered a deal — a "gentleman's agreement," as he put it — to move a slew of bills forward quickly. He said the arrangement hinged on an agreement that if the GOP had issues with one particular piece of legislation, "we would respect each other's opinion and work forward."

Egolf confirmed at a news conference Saturday that a bill creating a path toward redistricting was "at the core" of the deal worked out behind the scenes. He said it was a "shared priority" of both parties.

Redistricting, designed to ensure the number of people in each voting district remains fairly equal as populations shift, is required in every state once a decade, based on national census data. The process is often controversial because voting districts can be redrawn to benefit the political party in power.

The measure approved by House members early Saturday — a combination of proposals — creates an independent commission to draw possible district maps for legislative and congressional seats.

Kathleen Burke, project director of Fair Districts for New Mexico, an Albuquerque advocacy group, said she was "jubilant" about how the issue worked out. She tried to stay awake late Friday night and into Saturday morning to see what would happen with the measure. She fell asleep twice, she said, but caught the roughly 10-minute debate on the bill around 12:15 a.m. The House gave the legislation a unanimous "do pass."

"It was very much a surprise," Burke said Saturday afternoon. "The way in which it came together, the amendments that were made were a surprise to our team altogether."

Friday wasn't the only late night for legislators last week. On Saturday, many showed signs of fatigue.

Moments after mixing up two senators' names during a floor session, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, the Senate president, made a procedural error, calling on a bill reader instead of Majority Leader Peter Wirth.

"It's Day 60, senator," Morales told the Santa Fe Democrat. "Hopefully, you can give me just a little bit of slack."

Wirth turned to Sen. Craig Brandt, a Rio Rancho Republican who had requested a full reading of the 222-page state budget bill last week. "I thought Sen. Brandt had another issue for the reader to read, so I was a little worried there," Wirth joked.

As the minute hand on the clock approached noon, many lawmakers began to put aside their political differences. They praised one another and vowed to continue working together.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, spoke about their commonalities in a culminating speech and prayer in the House.

"God does not see us as Republicans and Democrats," she said.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(19) comments

Russell Scanlon

There is only one party responsible for the fact that there are barricades around the statehouse. And there is only one party complaining about the barricades around the statehouse. And it ain’t the Democrats.

Talk about infantile behavior. The GOP needs to do some soul searching to restore it’s reputation as a serious party representing serious conservative values. Otherwise it is doomed to failure.

Bob Res

Actually it IS the Democrats that are responsible for the barricades and police around the Capital....after all, they run the state, yes?

There is no, and was no, any more danger to the roundhouse after 1/6 then there was prior.

For those who think there was, then please explain how the attacks all summer on federal courthouses and the attempted attack on the WH in 2020 (thankfully, the secret service were not only more competent than the capital police but also were allowed to do their job) did not result in barricades and additional police at the roundhouse? Of course, I mean besides politics.

It’s also comforting to know that New Mexico is so flush with $$$ it can afford the needless expenses such as the barricades and police to protect politicians that aren’t even all present!

——- Bob

zach miller

as long as we have people on the Senate Judiciary who see themselves as arbiters to stop populous bills from passing to benefit the 1% who don't even live in New Mexico and 30/60 day Legislative sessions, then the sessions will always turn out like this.

Dottie Butler

Is a sixty-day session mandated by the state's constitution or law? I would think that the Democrats would want to extend the session for as long as it takes if they wanted to.

Some kind of change to the rules should be done to prevent filibusters by Republicans.

You may not call it a filibuster, but that is what it is.

Get rid of it.

Bob Res

God forbid we have open discussion, negotiations, and voices from any minority!

Stefanie Beninato

The paper always makes it seem that the Capitol was closed just for the 60 day session. It has been closed to the public unless you have an appointment for the last year. The fencing is what is new and that was in direct response to the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 Jan 2021--and threats of similar violence at state capitols.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Ms. Beninato, you are correct. How quickly things change: In 2011, I walked into the office of then-Governor Susana Martinez to hand-deliver a copy of the nation and world-altering "Declaration of 2008". Not unlike the office of then-Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, I was shocked by the easy access, I literally just walked in. Both respective staffs were extremely polite and professional.

The fences, barricades and -at some capitol buildings- soldiers exposes the sheer fearfulness of the mostly bought-and-paid for political party puppets. Be sure Ms. Beninato, for years I've taught: While the fear of Almighty Yahweh, is the beginning of Wisdom, Fear unto itself, is NOT a Godly-spirit. Rather, the presence of Fear is more indicative of the absence of Almighty Yahweh. Thus, the once-Godly blessed nation that has long, -falsely- proclaimed "Freedom" and "Liberty" to the world, now surrounds it's "Government" buildings with barricades and fences, while it's poser political party puppets cower in Fear - from their own corrupted, wicked actions.

Congratulations, -once again- to the often-brilliant Mr. Saturno, he captured the absolute best photograph of Michelle Grisham even taken. Bravo, sir!

Mike Johnson

Indeed hermano, that picture of her shows the way she really is, deep evil in the eyes, arrogance and elitism in the little else you can see, and luckily, very little you can see of that kisser......[lol]

Prince Michael Jauregui

Brother, as someone far wiser than I once wrote: The eyes are the window to the soul. Yikes!

Sabine Strohem

There is no GOP. There's only MAGA: the party of trump.

Richard Reinders

Trump is not around anymore you will have to find someone else to complain about, or are we stuck in the past.

Philip Taccetta

Thank goodness he’s not but all of his supporters still think that he won the election! Fortunately gone but unfortunately not forgotten.

zach miller

Tell that to Yvette Herrel so she can stop eating trump out and actually legislate.

Richard Reinders

The article is slanted to bash Republicans there were more Democrats to contract covid but you mention at least on Republican had. Also remember this is Democrat majority by a lot so don't blame the Republicans, everyone is at fault for forgetting the needs of New Mexicans over the needs of the lobbyist and self interest, shame on you.

zach miller

If republicans didn't want to be "bashed" they could always partake in living in the real world and pass bills people want instead of crying about allowing people to marry whoever they like.

Prince Michael Jauregui

"God does not see us as Republicans and Democrats", spews a member of the Abortion and Same-Sex "Marriage" promoting political party. Remember, YOUR party heads kicked HIM out a long time-ago. Rather, go talk to some more lobbyists and keep The Name of The Almighty out of your mouth.

In the words of the late George Carlin: "Democrats? Republicans? Ladies and gentlemen, remember it's one big party - and we're not invited."

Miguel Perez

👍

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup]

Andrew Lucero

[thumbup]

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