State lawmakers in both the House and Senate have groused for months about how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has employed the power of the executive branch during the COVID-19 crisis, vowing to take up the issue during this year’s 60-day session.

The debate began in earnest this week, with legislators considering bills that proponents say will establish a system of checks and balances to ensure they play a role in any emergency actions.

Members of the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted 7-2 to approve House Bill 139, which would limit a state of emergency to 90 days — unless the governor convened a special session of the Legislature, which would then have the power to restrict, suspend or end the state of emergency.

If the Legislature did not act on the issue, the governor could extend the declaration for up to 60 days after that session ends. Subsequent extensions of up to 60 days would require the governor to once again call the Legislature into special session until the end of the emergency.

“It has nothing to do with whether the governor has done an excellent job or not [with the pandemic],” said Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell. “It has to do with whether the Legislature should have a role.”

Nibert agreed, telling committee members the state of emergency has “impacted every New Mexican for the last 10 months without any real legislative involvement.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee agreed Wednesday to postpone a longer debate and possible vote on related legislation until a future meeting.

Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, would set a limit of 14 days on any declared state of emergency and require either the full body of the Legislature or leaders from both chambers to act to maintain the declaration for a longer period of time.

As the session began last month, Baca talked about the matter at length, emphasizing his concerns about emergency powers aren’t about whether a governor is a Republican or Democrat.



“That’s too much power in the hands of one person,” he said.

A least six bills have been introduced to give lawmakers more say in state-of-emergency provisions.

The varied legislative efforts come nearly 11 months after Lujan Grisham announced a public health emergency for the state as the coronavirus pandemic began to envelop the state.

Months after the initial declaration, both Democratic and Republican members of the Legislative Council voted to ask outside attorneys to determine whether Lujan Grisham should have asked for authorization from the Legislature for $30 million in COVID-19 emergency spending in March and April.

Beyond that, Republican lawmakers have questioned the impact of her actions, contending they have unfairly hurt small-business owners and led to the loss of thousands of jobs around the state. Many have called for her to “reopen” the state, focusing on businesses and public schools. The governor also faced heavy criticism at times for state health orders that closed indoor dining.

The National Council of State Legislatures reports states around the country have different ways of dealing with emergency declarations. Some allow the governor to act; many involve some form of legislative involvement.

Arizona requires an immediate special session to keep any declaration of emergency going after the governor has called for one, and in Kansas, a state of emergency cannot last beyond 15 days without approval of the Legislature.

Nora Meyers Sackett, spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, wrote in an email the Governor’s Office is not yet familiar with all of the proposed legislation.

“The governor’s ability to respond quickly to the pandemic has saved lives,” she wrote. “As the last 11 months have demonstrated, it’s important that a governor have the flexibility and authority to take immediate action to prevent loss of life in any public health emergency or emergency in which New Mexican lives are endangered. That’s what the people elect a leader to do.”

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.

(28) comments

Grace Trujillo

Yes, they need to be watched also. Otherwise, we'd be dealing with someone like Trump. And we definately don't need that.

Mike Johnson

BTW, you can bet MLG will veto any challenge to her dictatorial powers, so they better have veto proof majorities with any bill. Politicians like her will never voluntarily give up such massive power over our lives, be prepared for her to keep these indefinitely unless you act legislators. We are depending on you to restore democracy, don't let the people down!

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Jim Klukkert

Well once again Tom Hyland has quickly run out of substance to his comments, so rather predictably returns to distortions, outright lies, personal attacks and humorless snark.

From your claims that “so-called "insurrection"at the US capitol...was a ... false-flag operation ... by BLM, Antifa members and flat-out criminals;” to the lie that I called you a KKK member; citing of bogus sources; and then your direct lifting of my critique of your rambling, boring and repetitive comments and snarky suggestions; really Mr. Hyland, it is all too much.

What can one say? Perhaps someday you will feel better.

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Tom Hyland

Jim, I think your mask is on too tight. Oxygen deprivation causes headaches, confusion, slowed reactions, unclear thinking and a generally foul and angry disposition. Your commentary here at SFNM is a constant litany of scolding, insulting, name-calling and virtue signaling. It is shocking to witness your daily screeching at every person you disagree with. Your contributions are truly boring and are excessive and repetitive verbiage if ever there was. Have you no shame? The web moderator at SFNM told me to push the "report" button if I've encountered a comment I find offensive. When you called me a KKK member a few weeks back... you fabricate whatever... I tried pushing the button but your comments still stand. Either the button doesn't work or they approve your vitriol. So I'll just leave your words to speak for themselves. I wrote before that masks do not protect anyone from an airborne virus. A virus can infect you through your exposed eyes and ears. Viruses don't cease to travel past the point of 6 feet. Photos of laboratory virologists reveal these guys are dressed like astronauts on the moon. They aren't wearing bandanas. If you truly believe masks work then you should put a mask on your profile photo and give all of us a little relief.

Tom Hyland

House Bill 139 will be entered into this legislative session to examine and limit the Governor's emergency powers. New Mexico is being destroyed... economically, socially, and in an unconstitutional power play that is depriving its citizens the right to live freely and make their own choices. If you want to actively participate in this moment to make your voice heard and improve the quality of life itself, then read this petition and add your name to the growing list of concerned citizens.

https://www.change.org/p/new-mexico-state-legislature-vote-to-limit-the-governor-s-emergency-powers

Barry Rabkin

Any destruction of NM businesses is entirely the fault of the COVID-19 virus. Our Governor shares 0.00% of the blame.

Tom Hyland

I've just turned 65 years of age and if I should contract the covid19 virus I stand a 99.5% chance of recovery. Kids' likelihood of recovery is at 99.95%. I'm not real worried about this thing. This virus, or flu, or whatever it is... because it hasn't been identified... not a laboratory anywhere has procured a sample yet... did NOT shut down the churches, the schools, the businesses. The Governor did that. Now, finally, the Legislature is pondering what their duties are and what powers they have always wielded. Barry, you should read this very well-written petition I linked to. This is a focus upon our right to demand a balance of political powers. The petition is an opportunity for the citizenry to encourage our Legislators... the department that actually creates law... to remember who they represent and defend. Read this, will you?

Barry Rabkin

Our Governor has two backstops that prevent her from becoming a dictator: the Constitution of the State of New Mexico and the US Constitution. I am thankful that she has the emergency PHO authority that she has used ... a global highly infectious virus has no time to be debated or discussed by committees ... it must be contained. You and your ilk continually demonstrate that the only difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Richard Irell

As has been stated previously, NM has some of the most draconian economic restrictions of any of the states and yet is doing only middling well in number of cases, deaths, etc. How do you explain that? Saying that she had no responsibility for the state of the economy in NM is really quite absurd. She has made economic decisions and has to take responsibility for them.

Mike Johnson

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Lee DiFiore

How's that "managing the contagion" going? 175,652 cases and 3,338 deaths while crushing NM businesses and jobs.

Barry Rabkin

A great way to increase infections, hospitalizations, intubations, and deaths. A great way to overwhelm our state's healthcare system. I am thankful that our governor has the power that she has to act, through her PHOs, as quickly and as rapidly as she has in the face of this highly infectious global pandemic. Absolutely nothing, no iota, of her being a dictator: a global pandemic requires a total focus on managing the contagion and not on talking about it in the legislature and not on keeping businesses open.

Mike Johnson

Let me ask you if you would feel the same about this egregious law and what ensued if Stevan Pearce had been elected Governor. Try to be honest.......

Khal Spencer

I take it you don't trust the Legislature?

Richard Irell

There is no way I can support power being concentrated in the hands of one person for an extended period of time. We have some of the strictest rules in the nation, but are only doing middling well when it comes to infections and deaths.

Mike Johnson

Indeed Mr. Irell. In fact as of this morning, NM has the 15th worst death rate per capita in the nation. Higher than Texas, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and even California! Yet we are the most locked down, with the most businesses closed, no sports or gatherings allowed, and schools all mostly closed. MLG's unilateral decisions have not worked, more proof that democracy would be superior to totalitarianism.

Lee DiFiore

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Bonnie Cox

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Tom Hyland

There isn't anything out of normal happening here and everywhere. It's the flu. And mostly old folks with several other unhealthy conditions are going to die. Kids stand a 99.95% chance of recovery if they should contract this thing. Do you rejoice that businesses are closed, schools closed, no public gatherings, no music, no movies? It's the flu. Michelle is being told what to do. They told her to don a hardhat and run through sheetrock walls. Check it out on youtube. She really did that. Michelle will do whatever she's told. Here is a parable for our times. Read this and ponder if any of this feels familiar. https://off-guardian.org/2021/02/01/locusts/

Barry Rabkin

COVID-19 is not the same as the seasonal flu. Why not go into your local hospital and ask a nurse or doctor to correct your horrendous ignorance. Remember to wear a mask before stepping into the hospital.

Richard Irell

It is understandable that the executive needs the power to respond rapidly to a crisis. But there must be limits. After a month or so the governor should be forced to act with the advice and consent of the legislature.

Khal Spencer

I think Rep. Ely is on the right track with House Bill 139. No one person should be able to run a state on a state of emergency basis indefinitely without legislative oversight. Nothing against the Gov, who is between a rock and a hard place, but having near dictatorial powers indefinitely is just plain wrong. No one in America should be able to rule by decree beyond a short and carefully circumscribed set of circumstances. 90 days is more than enough. Two weeks might be enough for a flood or earthquake but as this pandemic showed us, not long enough for this sort of lingering emergency. Pass and sign House Bill 139.

Barry Rabkin

A truly horrendous bill written by ignorant legislators.

Khal Spencer

B.S.

Khal Spencer

Did you read it, or are you just spouting B.S.?

https://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/21%20Regular/bills/house/HB0139.pdf

Tom Hyland

Barry, do you truly reject the equal status of our three departments of government? The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary have their exact and separate duties to perform and it is written that neither department may usurp and deny the role of the other. If the Executive continues inventing declarations; Executive Orders; in this case orders that are destroying the state economy and the well-being of its citizenry, do you applaud that the Legislature shall abandon their very existence? Namely, that is creating actual law.

Mike Johnson

These are all very necessary changes to the complete dictatorial and totalitarian powers the Guv assumed under the poorly worded, too broad, too permanent, and egregious emergency health act. No legislator with half a brain should have allowed that act to pass, only Michael Sanchez saw it for what it really was. The Legislature has a rare second chance to correct this travesty and return democracy to NM so this kind of thing never happens in NM again. It is the MOST important thing they can do for the people in this session. Be not cowed and intimidated by the Guv and her left wing allies, change the law!

peter gonzales

I agree with the proposed legislation. The Governor should have the authority to call for an emergency with emergency powers, but the legislation should be involved as well. Our representatives from around the state should have a say in what may very well negatively impact their cities or towns. One person asking decisions for the states residences is indeed too much power. As for MLG saving lives, I see people dying everyday or suffering due to this virus. Up to this point, she hasn't saved many lives. The number keep increasing and there seems to be no end in sight. Too many wrong decisions have been made and we are the ones holding the bag and paying the price. Limit the power of the Governor and give a voice to our representatives.

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