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Shake-up in House committee chairs

SANTA FE – There will be new faces in the Legislature’s power structure, as House Speaker Brian Egolf on Wednesday named five new committee chairs, while also shifting one committee chairman to a different panel.

Most of the changes were prompted by election-related turnover, as four committee chairs from last year’s legislative session did not return this year – either because they did not seek re-election or they were ousted at the polls.

One of the new committee chairs is Rep. G. Andrés Romero, an Albuquerque Democrat who is a teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy and will head the House Education Committee.

The state’s public school system is expected to be a top focus during this year’s 60-day session, and Romero said he spoke with his students about possible legislation before heading to Santa Fe.

“I’m excited about the possibilities we have for our students,” he told the Journal.

Another new chairman is Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, an attorney who will take over the reins of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

The veteran lawmaker said there will be a wide range of bills during this year’s session aimed at creating sustained economic growth.

Maestas cited changes to the state’s film incentive program and an expansion of industrial hemp – which was ratified last year – as possible ways to strengthen the state’s economy, which has historically been reliant on government spending and the oil and natural gas industries.

“If we could replace alfalfa with hemp, that would be a huge economic boost,” he said.

Meanwhile, Egolf also announced that Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, will remain a committee chairman but will move from the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee to the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee.

Alcon last year joined with Republican members of a House committee to block legislation that would have required background checks for people buying firearms online or at gun shows.

Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, will take Alcon’s place as chairwoman of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

The other new committee chairs are: Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, who will lead the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, and Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque, who will head the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee.

The previous longtime chairman of the transportation panel, Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, was named vice chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier this week, which meant he had to give up his chairmanship.

Committee chairs typically decide the order in which assigned bills will be debated – or whether they’re debated at all.

Democrats have a decided majority on most committees, as they outnumber Republicans 46-24 in the House.

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