Appropriating federal money and making new electoral maps: that’s what state lawmakers will be doing when they return to the state Capitol on Monday for a special legislative session.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the session Thursday, tasking lawmakers with redistricting political boundaries and doling out federal pandemic aid.

States are required under federal law to use new U.S. census data to redraw certain political lines every 10 years. In New Mexico, that includes include seats for the state Legislature, U.S. Congress and the state Public Education Commission.

The process is often controversial and leads to lawsuits, forcing the courts to step in.

The question of who has control over federal relief funds already has generated controversy — and judicial involvement. Earlier this year, lawmakers from both political parties teamed in support of a lawsuit against Lujan Grisham that sought to settle which branch of government has the authority to appropriate federal funds.

In mid-November, the state Supreme Court ruled against the governor, ruling it is up to the Legislature to decide how to spend $1.6 billion in federal aid.

In a news release announcing the special session, the governor attempted to paint a positive portrait of her relationship with the Legislature, calling it “incredibly productive” and adding there is more to do.

“I am sure that lawmakers will meet this moment and deliver this massively important federal funding to New Mexicans in a strategic and meaningful way,” she said in the statement.

Federal relief money may become even more vital as New Mexico sinks deeper into the throes of a COVID-19 crisis. On Thursday, the state Department of Health reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases.



Still, the redistricting process is likely to take up the most time for lawmakers in the special session. Earlier this year, lawmakers created a Citizens’ Redistricting Committee and charged it with coming up with at least three maps for each political entity.

Among other goals, the committee worked to avoid any hint of gerrymandering, which would tilt the maps in favor of one party or another. In mid-October the committee chose three maps each for U.S. House, both chambers of the Legislature and the Public Education Commission. Those have been sent to the Legislature for consideration.

But lawmakers can introduce their own maps, or amend those pitched by the committee.

Dick Mason, project director for redistricting for the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, said he hopes lawmakers will choose one of the maps created by the committee, which spent weeks holding public forums and reviewing dozens of proposed maps.

He said his biggest concern is lawmakers “will play with the maps either for partisan advantage or for incumbency protection.”

Rep. Damon Ely, D-Corrales, said he expects legislators will put a lot of time and thought into the process.

“It’s not that we will rubber stamp these maps,” said Ely, who is not running for reelection. “That’s not going to happen.”

It is unclear how long the special session will last, though several legislators have estimated it could take up to two weeks to complete the redistricting process and approve new district maps.

The Capitol will be open to members of the public who have proof of coronavirus vaccinations. Lawmakers voted in November to prohibit people from carrying firearms and other weapons into the building.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

@danieljchacon.

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.

(4) comments

Michael Kiley

We just vacationed in San Francisco in the Union Square night life district. Business is racing. I STRONGLY urge Gov. Lujan to copy their rule: for every business patron entering an indoor business, including restaurants, requires and notices it at the entrance, you must show your vax certificate.  We saw people without it turned away. And restaurants were fully staffed and jammed. So do what works. New Mexico has climbed two levels toward the highest new infection category on the NYT daily US map (front page and online).  What we are doing is not working. Rates here are doubling owing to vax deniers. New Mexico should ORDER VAX CERTIFICATE DISPLAY for all indoor businesses. And that will catch the vaccination deadbeats' attention, which will help stem new infections and deaths. No, its not illegal to copy California!  L.A. has now copied San Francisco.   The main point here is that vax mandates are less obstructive than business closures, but very effective against the current surge, and would potentiate our high vaccination rate, the same situation as California. Mike Kiley, Ph.D., M>P.H., Retired Rescue Operations Supervisor/NREMTP, California State Police.

Mike Johnson

The political circus in back in town. Hide your women, children, and pets. And in the immortal words of Mr. Tucker:"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."

Chris Mechels

A small amendment; change Legislature to Trifecta. With Trifecta rule, and the utter failure of our "media" and any oversight, larceny is certain. Needed; a prosecutor...

Matthew Rawlings

Maybe they could appropriate some of that money to the State Engineers Office, who is the top water official in the state that sent in his letter of resignation two weeks citing lack of resources and staff. Likely the most important office in the state.

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