House could restrict legislators' bill introductions - Albuquerque Journal

House could restrict legislators’ bill introductions

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, center, and other House Republicans at the special session last month. House members may face a limit on the number of bills they can introduce during the upcoming session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico House members could face a cap on how many bills they can introduce during the 60-day session set to start next month, as lawmakers grapple with ways to conduct the session amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, proposed the idea Monday, saying limiting lawmakers to no more than five bills apiece could ease the strain on legislative analysts during a session that’s expected to take place at least partially remotely.

“It will also help the public see and focus on a reduced legislative list,” Egolf said during a meeting of the Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of top-ranking lawmakers.

However, some Republicans expressed concern about the proposal, with House GOP floor leader James Townsend of Artesia noting House Democrats would be able to introduce far more bills than Republicans since they will enter the session with a 45-25 majority.

“Having my caucus at a 100-bill disadvantage is probably something we need more conversation on,” Townsend said during Monday’s online meeting.

The five-bill limit, which could require a rule change to enact, is not being pursued in the other legislative chamber, said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Wirth also said the Senate intends to forge ahead with the 60-day session that’s scheduled to start Jan. 19, despite calls to delay it from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and some lawmakers.

Specifically, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said Monday it would be “irresponsible” to not consider delaying the session due to a projected decline in COVID-19 deaths in the spring months with the arrival of a highly-touted vaccine.

While no official votes were taken Monday, Wirth said the session would likely be a hybrid between in-person and remote proceedings, with a “huge piece of it” done virtually.

The Roundhouse is currently closed to the public, and two special sessions held since the start of the pandemic – one in June and the other in November – were both conducted without lobbyists, advocates and other members of the public allowed in the building.

All committee hearings and floor debates were webcast live, however, with some committees also hearing testimony online.

Meanwhile, it’s still unclear whether the Legislature might use the Santa Fe Community Convention Center during the upcoming session as a way to allow for socially distanced public participation.

The idea of the convention center, which is located about a mile from the Roundhouse, was floated this fall but legislative branch officials have not yet entered into a contract with Santa Fe city officials about renting the 72,000-square-foot venue.

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