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NM Supreme Court rejects House GOP rules challenge

Representatives talk on the House floor in this Jan. 28 file photo. The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit filed by three House Republicans that challenged remote participation rules enacted for this year’s 60-day session. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit filed by three House Republicans that challenged the chamber’s remote participation rules for the ongoing 60-day legislative session.

The state’s highest court did not provide a reason for its ruling, which came after it had asked House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and other top lawmakers to file a response to the court challenge.

Just days after this year’s session began, the Democratic-controlled House passed temporary rules that permit its 70 members to use online technology to debate and vote on bills — many from outside the Capitol — due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The rules were adopted on a largely party-line vote, though four Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of them — and one Democrat joined the remaining GOP legislators in voting in opposition.

In their lawsuit, the three GOP lawmakers argued the House rules violate the state Constitution. Specifically, they argued the Constitution requires that legislators be physically present in Santa Fe to debate and vote on bills.

But attorneys for Egolf and other top lawmakers argued in their response it is not the judicial branch’s job to resolve procedural disputes within the Legislature.

They also cited legislative data showing that more than 15,000 people watched or participated in legislative proceedings during the first week of the 60-day session.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the petition, House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the court had failed to respond to a “significant constitutional issue.”

House GOP whip Rod Montoya of Farmington, who along with Townsend was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was even more blunt in his assessment.

“Just like small business owners and parents of New Mexico schoolchildren, legislators have lost confidence in New Mexico courts to protect our constitutional rights,” Montoya said in a statement.

However, Egolf lauded the decision, saying, “I am glad that today’s ruling allows us to keep in place the rules that were adopted to protect the health and safety of the public, staff and members for the remainder of the session.”

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