Proposal aims to keep legislators from drinking while on the job - Albuquerque Journal

Proposal aims to keep legislators from drinking while on the job

Sen. Harold Pope Jr., D-Albuquerque, works at his desk on the Senate floor Monday in the Roundhouse. He is proposing a rule that would prohibit members of his chamber from drinking before or during legislative meetings. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – For some legislators, drinking is part of the Roundhouse culture.

At least a few have been known to keep alcohol in their Capitol offices.

And it’s common for lawmakers to head to dinner – before a late-night floor session – at restaurants serving booze.

But Sen. Harold Pope Jr. said he’s seen enough.

The first-term legislator from Albuquerque is proposing a Senate rule that would prohibit members of the chamber from drinking alcohol before committee meetings or floor sessions. They couldn’t drink during the meetings either.

“Quite frankly, I’ve just seen some things that, for me, I think are unprofessional for us to be doing on the job,” Pope, a Democrat elected in 2020, said in an interview Monday. “I think there should be some standards. I don’t think we would allow anyone in state government to be able to have a drink on break before doing state business.”

It’s unclear what kind of reception Pope’s proposal will get from his colleagues. Alcohol isn’t otherwise mentioned in the rules of the House or Senate.

His measure, Senate Resolution 1, was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

If passed there and by the full chamber, it would apply only to senators.

The House has its own rules, though at least one member said she’d support an alcohol ban in her chamber, too.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle – a Roswell Republican who serves on the Senate Rules Committee – questioned how the prohibition would be enforced.

“I haven’t seen anything myself that this is even an issue,” Pirtle said.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said the rule is unnecessary.

Others were less definitive.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the alcohol prohibition “is a discussion worth having.”

For his part, he said, he decided years ago not to drink at all during legislative sessions. But he added that he isn’t disparaging members who make a different decision.

“This is such an intense process that for me personally – it doesn’t help me do the job that I’m here to do,” Wirth said.

In 2020, New Mexico had the highest alcohol death rate in the nation, according to the state Department of Health.

Three legislators since 2018 have been charged with drunken driving, two of whom lost reelection bids. The third didn’t run again.

Only one of the arrests – of then-Rep. Georgene Louis last year – happened during a legislative session. She told police during a traffic stop last year that she’d been at a friend’s house in Santa Fe for a Super Bowl party.

Louis later entered a no-contest plea to a charge of drunken driving.

Also last year, a harassment complaint filed by lobbyist Marianna Anaya against state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, touched on alcohol in the Roundhouse – including an allegation that she’d been pressured to drink during an office meeting. Ivey-Soto has denied the allegations.

Pope said Monday his rule isn’t aimed at anyone in particular.

“We have to be focused and be ready to do our job, not have anything that’s going to deter from that,” Pope said.

Alcohol, he said, simply isn’t a wise addition to legislative debates that are contentious enough already.

Mario Jimenez III, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that lobbies on ethics and campaign finance legislation, said he would welcome a rule in both chambers prohibiting alcohol consumption before legislative meetings.

“We should expect all of our legislators, not just those in the Senate, to be making these decisions sober and clear-minded,” he said.

Drinking, Jimenez said, is “something that we all definitely know takes place within the Legislature.”

Alcohol consumption isn’t generally out in the open. But lawmakers’ offices are scattered throughout the Capitol complex, and many have their own fridges.

Legislators are also invited to an array of social events in the evening, and dinners at restaurants that serve alcohol are common.

Near the end of the session, lawmakers are often called to committee hearings or floor debates deep into the night, sometimes unexpectedly.

Pope’s measure would codify in Senate rules that no “senator shall consume alcohol before or during any floor session or meeting of a committee to which a member has been appointed.”

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said she would support a drinking ban if it were introduced in the House. Avoiding alcohol, she said, is a way to respect the seriousness of legislators’ duties.

“It’s already proven that it impairs your abilities to function,” she said, “and I just don’t see how it would be useful in any way.”

Pope, for his part, said he isn’t trying to keep anyone from drinking when the day is over.

“It’s just there’s a time and a place,” he said.

Pope, an Air Force retiree, likes a vodka martini himself.

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