More than a thousand bills, memorials and resolutions have been introduced during this 60-day New Mexico legislative session. Many of these proposals tackle the most critical issues facing our families and communities, from education to health care to well-paid jobs and public safety. If, as a legislature, we worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout this session, we could devote roughly one hour to each piece of legislation.
While most other states have implemented modern legislative systems that include the staff, resources and time necessary to more carefully propose, consider and pass laws, the New Mexico Legislature remains behind the curve. New Mexico is a one-of-a-kind place, but we believe the outdated structure of our Legislature is holding our state back, which is why we are championing proposals this session to give voters the opportunity to weigh in on modernizing our Legislature.
The Legislature operates on a 60-day calendar in odd-numbered years and a scant 30-day calendar in even-numbered years, with interim committees between sessions. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 2 would allow voters to amend the New Mexico Constitution to make every regular session 60 days, providing us more time to address the year-round needs of New Mexicans.
Furthermore, legislators are not currently compensated for their work beyond a per diem to cover lodging, meals and out-of-pocket expenses during session and while serving on interim committees. Only a tiny fraction of New Mexicans can afford to work without pay, so the lack of compensation creates a significant barrier to participation in the Legislature for many, especially parents and working individuals.
We’ve made tremendous strides in recent years to make our Legislature more representative of the communities we serve, by recruiting lawmakers from diverse backgrounds to join our efforts in the Roundhouse. But we have also seen how our current structures can make it difficult for some to serve. For example, former Reps. Brittany Barreras and Kay Bounkeua recently made the difficult decision to not return to the Legislature, citing the pressures legislative service puts on working families.
In order to build on our progress in recruiting and retaining diverse lawmakers from around the state, we must modernize this branch of government. HJR 8 would create an independent citizens’ commission to research, set and limit salaries for legislators, and ensure these salaries accurately reflect their responsibilities and duties while taking into consideration the state’s projected economic forecast.
As the Journal Editorial Board stated last year, “It’s well past time for lawmakers to acknowledge what many of their constituents have shared with the Journal: The current system bars too many New Mexicans from serving in the Legislature, and rush jobs are a poor way to run a state.”
If both of these reforms were adopted today, the estimated cost to taxpayers would be less than 1% of the state’s budget.
The people of New Mexico deserve a modern legislature that represents them and serves their needs. These joint resolutions would let voters choose how we do that.