Members of NM's congressional delegation express support for legislative revamp - Albuquerque Journal

Members of NM’s congressional delegation express support for legislative revamp

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., honors former state Rep. J. Paul Taylor, who recently died at age 102, at the start of his remarks to a joint session of the New Mexico House and Senate. Three members of the state’s congressional delegation gave speeches to lawmakers on Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — With New Mexico lawmakers facing an unprecedented revenue bonanza, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich urged lawmakers Monday to approve bills expanding rural health care services and creating a new trust fund for conservation projects.

The state’s senior senator also expressed support for proposals to modernize New Mexico’s Legislature by paying lawmakers a salary, saying the state’s current system makes legislators too reliant on different interest groups for technical knowledge on bills.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift from surviving to thriving — as a state and as a community,” Heinrich told lawmakers. “We cannot let a scarcity mentality or incremental approach dictate our policy choices.”

Heinrich was one of three members of New Mexico’s all-Democratic congressional delegation that addressed legislators on Monday — along with U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Gabe Vasquez.

The speeches marked the first of their kind since 2019.

All five members of the state’s delegation typically give Roundhouse speeches during the 60-day legislative sessions that take place in odd-numbered years, but no such speeches were delivered in 2021 when the Capitol was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During Monday’s joint session, Leger Fernández, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 2020, called on lawmakers to prioritize funding for mental health and drug treatment programs when making their budget decisions, saying she had lost several family members to suicide and addiction-related issues.

Vasquez, who defeated Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell in November’s general election, joked that he had been asked to limit his remarks to no more than two minutes.

He ultimately spoke for at least slightly longer than that, however, and expressed support for several gun safety measures that have already prompted fierce debate during this year’s session.

Vasquez also publicly backed the push to modernize the Legislature, which includes separate measures to pay lawmakers a salary, extend the length of legislative sessions and possibly establish field offices for some lawmakers.

One of those measures, the one dealing with longer sessions, passed the House Judiciary Committee via a party-line 7-4 vote on Monday and now advances to the House floor.

As for Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2013, he called the state’s revenue windfall an “unprecedented moment of opportunity” for New Mexico.

But he also expressed concern about staffing shortages in some state agencies, as New Mexico had a 24.3% vacancy rate in rank-and-file job positions as of last fall.

In an interview after his Monday remarks, Heinrich declined to address speculation about his possible interest in running for governor in 2026.

“Right now, I’m focused on my reelection two years from now,” he told the Journal, referring to the 2024 election cycle.

He also said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won reelection to a second four-year term in November, should be able to focus on her second term as governor without distractions about possible successors.

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