After getting pushback over plans to dissolve a legislative committee that dealt with land grants, acequias and other issues affecting rural New Mexico, House Democrats have created a new committee to give those interests a voice in the Legislature.
The new Rural Development, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee, which will be established during the 30-day legislative session that begins Tuesday, will be chaired by Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo.
News of the new committee came after a meeting with land grant and acequia community leaders Wednesday.
“I am grateful for the advice and input that we received today from land grant and acequia leaders,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. “I am glad that we have charted a path forward which will result in a new committee structure that will both elevate land grant and acequia issues and bring positive change for every land grant heir and acequia parciante.”
In addition to creating the new committee, two other standing committees have been renamed.
The State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee will now be known as the Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee. The Agriculture and Water Resources Committee is now the Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee.
“Together, these committees will respond effectively to the needs of land grant and acequia communities within the Legislature,” House Democrats wrote in a news release.
Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, expressed gratitude for the changes, saying in a statement land grants and acequias have sustained communities in New Mexico for centuries.
“We remain devoted to the well-being of our families by sustaining our culture and protecting land and water for future generations,” she said. “We are encouraged that House leadership is listening to our needs and concerns and that there is a commitment to work with us now and in the future.”
Egolf, who created the new committee in consultation with other leaders in the Roundhouse, sparked outcry after he announced in the final moments of the special legislative session in December the Local Government, Land Grants & Cultural Affairs Committee had been dissolved.
Members of Congress and others decried the decision after it was reported by The New Mexican.
“I’m deeply disappointed and disheartened that California-style progressives in New Mexico want to erase the history and progress we’ve made over the years on land grant issues,” former state Rep. Joseph Sanchez wrote in a My View opinion piece published Jan. 2 in The New Mexican. “Rather than working with impacted communities on these issues that have played a critical part in the history of our state, progressives have erased one of the only venues that gave an official forum and voice to those who are impacted by policy decisions, thinking they know better than the generations of families who live on and work the land.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said he, too, was “deeply disappointed” by the move to dissolve the committee.
“After communicating with Speaker Egolf, I’m encouraged that he’ll be sitting down and meeting with leaders from land grant and acequia communities on how best to move forward,” Luján said in a statement last month. “This committee is not only part of our history, but part of our future.”