A vote to adjourn a legislative meeting is usually unanimous.
In some instances, a vote to call it quits isn’t even necessary.
But Monday, Republican lawmakers voted against ending the first Legislative Council meeting of the year over a dispute with Democrats, who control what appears on the agenda.
Last month, House Republican leaders sent council’s co-chairs — House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque — a letter requesting that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s budget vetoes be placed on the agenda. The purpose, they wrote, was to “discuss how the Legislature can preserve its constitutional authority of ‘power of the purse’ regarding federal dollars.”
At issue is which branch of government controls the appropriation of federal funds, such as the $1 billion in pandemic-related aid from the American Rescue Plan that Lujan Grisham struck from the budget for fiscal year 2022. Last week, members of the Legislative Finance Committee even discussed the possibility of taking the governor to court to resolve the long-running question.
But the matter didn’t even appear on the Legislative Council’s agenda.
“I think at the very least we need to have a discussion about this,” Republican Whip Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington said at the conclusion of the meeting. “If we’re not going to deal with it today, I would like to once again formally request that we bring this up in our upcoming Legislative Council meeting.”
Egolf, who ran Monday’s meeting, was noncommittal, saying only he would be “happy to visit with Senator Stewart to see about what will be included in our future meetings.”
As Egolf tried to adjourn the meeting, Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, interrupted. She said she was driving and unable to raise her hand virtually.
“I’m just wondering; is it inappropriate for a member to make a motion that it be discussed now?” asked Dow, who serves as the House Republicans’ caucus chairwoman.
Under the Open Meetings Act, Egolf said, only an item noticed on an agenda can be discussed.
“If the Republicans request an agenda item, it doesn’t have to be considered?” Dow asked. “Or if it was considered, how do we find out how it was decided not to be heard or considered on the agenda today?”
While Republicans haven’t received a response to their April 21 letter, “it doesn’t mean that we won’t,” Egolf said.
Republican legislators then tried to vote to place the governor’s vetoes as a discussion item on the agenda of the next Legislative Council meeting, including with “our lawyers in attendance.” But that plan failed, too.
“Making a motion and acting on it is an action item, which we don’t have on the agenda, so I’m not going to take the motion,” Egolf said, adding he would “be glad to get on the phone later this week” with Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, and leaders of both parties “to talk about what is going to be included in our upcoming agendas.”
Republican lawmakers persisted. But Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, intervened, saying Egolf had made his position known, “so I would move to adjourn.”
The motion passed on a party-line vote of 9-5.
“This is total abuse of power,” House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend of Artesia said in a statement afterward. “We requested that the Governor’s vetoes be discussed weeks ago, to protect the separation of powers, yet the Speaker has gone out of his way to not only ignore the request, but also deny the public justice in the billions that Lujan Grisham is blocking from being spent.”
Egolf wrote in a text message that he didn’t have anything to add beyond what he said at the meeting.
“Sen. Stewart says it would have been premature to get into the veto discussion today,” a spokesman for Senate Democrats said.