Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Just weeks after his decision to dissolve a New Mexico House committee on acequias and Hispanic land grants drew criticism, House Speaker Brian Egolf announced the creation of a new panel that will effectively take its place.
Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, announced the change, which also includes altering the names and scope of two other standing committees, after meeting this week with land grant and acequia community leaders.
“I am glad that we have charted a path forward, which will result in a new committee structure that will both elevate land grant and acequia issues, and bring positive change for every land grant heir and acequia parciante,” Egolf said in a statement.
The changes, which would take effect for the 30-day session that starts next week, come after several members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Ben Ray Luján, expressed disappointment about the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee being dissolved.
Luján’s father, former House Speaker Ben Lujan, created an interim committee to work on issues related to land grants and acequias during his legislative tenure, and the younger Luján described them as a critical part of New Mexico’s “heart, soul and history.”
House Republicans also blasted the decision to eliminate the previous committee, which was announced at the end of a special session focused on redistricting that took place last month.
“Once again, we are witnessing the diminishing returns progressive Democrats are finding in Hispanic voting groups,” said House GOP whip Rod Montoya of Farmington.
Shortly after the change was announced, top House Democrats said the duties and jurisdiction of the committee would be absorbed by other House panels.
But plans apparently changed after the recent meeting with land grant and acequia leaders and the new committee – named the House Rural Development, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee – will be chaired by Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo.
Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said she was encouraged by the change of plans.
“We are prepared to advocate for investments in our communities and policies consistent with our core values,” Garcia said in a statement. “We have much work ahead and look forward to having a stronger voice in the updated committee structure.”
In all, there are 14 standing committees in the House, compared with nine in the Senate.
The 30-day legislative session begins Tuesday.