UNM examines unpaid work by legislators - Albuquerque Journal

UNM examines unpaid work by legislators

The New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe. (Morgan Lee/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – More than 90% of the state legislators who participated in a University of New Mexico survey reported doing at least 30 days a year of unpaid legislative work.

The finding comes as a group of lawmakers prepares to push in the 2023 session to restructure the state Legislature.

They are developing legislation that would establish a state salary for lawmakers, extend the length of legislative sessions and boost legislative staffing. Some of the ideas would be included in a constitutional amendment submitted to voters.

New Mexico is the only state that doesn’t pay its legislators a salary. Instead members draw daily payments – based on federal per diem – for attending meetings, in addition to reimbursement for travel and the option to participate in a pension plan.

But Rose Rohrer, a research scientist at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UNM, said roughly nine out of 10 legislators who participated in a survey reported working at least 30 days a year when they didn’t claim per diem.

Another 9% of those surveyed said they worked 10 to 29 unpaid days.

“I think this is a critical finding,” Rohrer said Monday during a presentation to the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee at the Roundhouse. “Everyone said they were doing work that was unpaid.”

Lawmakers, she said, also reported that serving in the Legislature takes a toll on their employment outside the Capitol.

“People were saying losses of $10,000, $20,000 a year in order to serve as a legislator,” she said.

Rohrer is working on a broader report that will be submitted to the Legislature in January. Her research team reached out to all 112 state legislators, though not all participated.

Preliminary survey findings, she said, suggest support for expanding legislative staff to help lawmakers carry out their work and address constituent concerns. There was also support, Rohrer said, for extending or restructuring legislative sessions.

One idea included adding days to the session, but with a recess dividing the session in two parts.

Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, said that providing a salary, staff and other changes would allow a broader pool of people to serve in the Legislature, creating a body that better reflects the demographics of New Mexico.

She is among a group of Democratic lawmakers working on legislation expected to be introduced in the 60-day session that starts Jan. 17.

New Mexico alternates 30- and 60-day regular sessions each year. But lawmakers also meet throughout the year in committee hearings to hear reports and prepare legislation ahead of the formal sessions.

They also participate in special sessions called by the governor for a specific purpose.

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