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GOP lawmakers push to remove security fence at New Mexico Capitol

A chain-link fence and “No Trespassing” signs surround the Roundhouse on Tuesday, keeping the public away from the building during the 2021 legislative session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Republican lawmakers asked Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday to order removal of the chain-link fence surrounding the Capitol this session, arguing that it fuels the perception that public voices aren’t welcome.

The fencing went up last month after the violent mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump disrupted certification of the presidential election.

State capitols across the country were bracing in January for the possibility of violent protests, and New Mexico legislative leaders directed the administrative arm of the Legislature to take steps to secure the Roundhouse.

But high-ranking Republican lawmakers in the state House and Senate say it’s time to take down the fence because no threat actually materialized.

“Maintaining the fence after any possible threat is no longer evident only creates the perception that our government leaders are afraid of our state’s citizens and that there is division between those who govern and the general public,” they said in a letter to the Democratic House speaker and Senate president pro tem.

They asked that the Legislative Council – a bicameral panel of high-ranking lawmakers – order removal of the fence. The council, however, typically meets between sessions.

Tuesday’s letter was signed by the minority leader, minority whip and minority caucus chair in the House and the Senate. Democrats hold substantial majorities in both chambers.

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said Tuesday that he planned to meet with House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart to discuss how to proceed.

The Roundhouse has been closed to the public as a public health measure intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. Fencing went up around the building in mid-January, the week before a 60-day legislative session began.

State Police and the National Guard have been stationed around the building, screening arrivals to the Capitol. Only legislators, some media members and certain other authorized people are allowed inside.

The Republican leaders said they would support keeping the State Police on duty, if warranted, for security reasons.

Lawmakers this year are accepting public comment during online committee hearings, with people testifying by phone or through a Zoom video link.

“New Mexicans have endured the hardest year in a generation and they should not have their hard earned tax dollars wasted,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said in a written statement. “… It is now time to take down the fence and deploy resources and law enforcement to other parts of the state in need.”

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