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Gov. appears unlikely to get more emergency powers

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A bill that would give New Mexico’s governor expanded powers during a declared public health emergency appeared to be on life support Saturday after the Senate adjourned without addressing it.

The proposal had been added to the special session agenda by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and bills on it were filed in both the House and Senate.

However, one of the bills was pulled back on the House floor late Friday after it encountered fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers who argued the Legislature should not be giving more power to Lujan Grisham during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We ought to have a seat at the table to determine what direction the state is going in and how it’s impacting our communities,” said Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell.

The matching emergency powers measures, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 2, would give the governor the authority to suspend in-person requirements for signing certain official documents, including notaries and wills, during a declared public health emergency.

The bills would also allow alcoholic beverages to be delivered with food orders during such times, though such authority would expire in June 2021.

Before the House bill was pulled back from a vote, Nibert proposed an amendment that would have required the governor to get legislative approval to extend emergency public health orders beyond 30 days.

That’s the same focus of a separate Republican-backed bill that was not considered during the special session because Lujan Grisham did not add it to the agenda.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Saturday that the partisan pushback against the emergency powers bill was predictable and disappointing.

“Those emergency powers are each things that constituency groups, stakeholders and New Mexicans have asked for repeatedly over the course of the pandemic,” Stelnicki said. “The governor has no interest in an expanded emergency power for its own sake. It’s about finding a way to temporarily meet the needs of New Mexicans in the midst of this public health emergency.”

Many New Mexico Republicans have criticized the Lujan Grisham administration for overstepping its authority during the COVID-19 outbreak, especially when it comes to emergency spending.

Although the Legislature is typically the branch of government that controls the state’s purse strings, the governor can authorize some emergency spending.

After the coronavirus outbreak hit New Mexico, the state Department of Health filed a general purchase order covering up to $200 million that might be spent in coming months.

That money is intended to be used on masks, broadband services, coronavirus testing and even attorneys to defend Lujan Grisham’s public health orders that have imposed business restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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