SANTA FE — Leading the nation by a nose, New Mexico lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have approved legislation declaring an official state aroma — the smell of roasting green chile.
The governor signed the declaration into law Tuesday during a visit to Las Cruces, making New Mexico the first state in the nation to adopt an official aroma.
A search of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website turned up no results for official state aromas, scents, smells, odors, fragrances or fumes.
The bill, in any case, didn’t waft through the Roundhouse unscathed. Lawmakers suggested competing smells — fresh-cut alfalfa, for example — but nothing else quite measured up.
The only amendment to the bill was removal of the phrase “in the fall.” In other words, the scent of green chile roasting is the official aroma of New Mexico, no matter the season.
The bill moved through the Legislature this year with the backing of expert witnesses — fifth-grade students at Monte Vista Elementary School, who testified online from their classroom in Las Cruces.
Democratic Sen. William Soules of Las Cruces sponsored the legislation, Senate Bill 188, after visiting the school as an invited speaker. The state’s official bird — the roadrunner, of course — came up in discussion, and the students suggested the scent of green chile roasting in the fall deserved recognition.
And now it’s official: Lujan Grisham’s signature puts the aroma into law, right below the official state necklace (Native American squash blossom) and tie (the bolo).
She signed the bill in the library at the Monte Vista elementary.
“Another ‘first’ today!” the governor tweeted. “We are the first state in the nation to have an official state aroma. Here in NM, it’s a no-brainer! Thanks to the hard work of Sen. Bill Soules and fifth graders from Monte Vista Elementary, roasting green chile is now our official state aroma!”
The bill triggered some jokes this year from late-night talk show hosts and complaints from lawmakers who called it a waste of time. But supporters described it as a good-natured way to promote New Mexico tourism.
It was one of 246 bills passed by lawmakers in this year’s 60-day legislative session.
The Senate — whose members like to describes themselves as the upper chamber and more deliberative body — approved the bill on a 31-4 vote.
The House — whose members have smaller districts and stand for election every two years, making them particularly responsive to voters — passed the legislation 57-0.
Encore: A chile song
Lawmakers have not, however, settled on an official state tune.
A proposal to establish an official state chile song — “Red or Green,” by Lenny Roybal — won House approval 65-0 but died in the Senate. The lyrics include:
Ay ay ay ay ay
Ay ay ay ay ay picoso
Ay ay ay ay ay
There’s always next year. The bipartisan measure, House Bill 510, would need approval from the governor to make it onto the 2024 legislative agenda.