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Court rejects stay of House rules, wants quick response

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, right, talks with House Chief Clerk Lisa Ortiz McCutcheon after a limited floor session on Thursday. Most legislators in the House are required to participate remotely rather than from the chamber floor because of the pandemic. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – The state Supreme Court wants a quick response from House Speaker Brian Egolf and legislative attorneys as it considers a petition from Republican lawmakers challenging the new House rules for remote participation.

In an order Monday, the justices denied a request to halt the rules immediately, but they ordered Egolf and the Legislative Council Service to respond to the lawsuit by Sunday.

The order comes in a case filed by House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, and two other GOP legislators challenging the new House rules for online participation.

The rules allow members to cast votes from home – a violation, the Republicans say, of the constitutional requirement for lawmakers to conduct the session in Santa Fe. They have suggested the session be postponed until COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available.

Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and other Democratic legislative leaders say the new rules allow the chamber to conduct its work safely in the pandemic. They noted that the Supreme Court itself has held online hearings.

The Senate and House have adopted separate rules for online participation. House rules allow members to participate remotely from anywhere. Only legislative leaders are allowed in the chamber for floor sessions. Senators can appear in person for floor sessions or participate remotely from their Capitol offices.

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