SANTA FE – For more than 50 years, New Mexico has held annual legislative sessions that vary in length – 30 days in even-numbered years and 60 days in odd-numbered ones.
But a Democratic state senator is pushing a change to the state’s Constitution that would set the length of sessions at 42 days – in both odd and even-numbered years.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the idea is intended to make it easier for lawmakers with full-time jobs to serve in the Legislature.
“I’m trying to double down on the idea of a citizen Legislature,” Cervantes told the Journal. “A two-month session makes it very difficult for anyone who’s not retired or paid to be here.”
New Mexico is the only state that does not pay its legislators a salary – they do get per diem payments intended to cover food and lodging expenses – and many lawmakers hold regular jobs.
Although some have proposed paying lawmakers, Cervantes said that could make New Mexico’s Legislature function more like Congress.
Instead, he believes having shorter legislative sessions in odd-numbered years would make it easier for unpaid legislators to temporarily step away from their work.
At the same time, his proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 14, would extend the shorter sessions held in even-numbered years.
Those 30-day sessions are currently limited in scope to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration by the governor, but that would change under Cervantes’ proposal.
Legislation on any issue would be fair game in every regular legislative session, said Cervantes, an attorney who sought the Democratic nomination for governor last year.
“I do think there’s a need for greater efficiency during the time we’re here,” he said. “If we’re doing our jobs properly in the interim, six weeks should be more than enough time to move legislation through.”
Nationally, the length of legislative sessions varies by state, and states like Texas and Montana only hold legislative sessions every other year.
New Mexico used to have such a system, but began holding annual sessions in 1965 after a constitutional change was ratified.
The 42-day New Mexico session proposal is currently awaiting its first hearing in the Senate Rules Committee. If passed by both the House and Senate, it would go to statewide voters for final approval – likely in 2020.