SANTA FE – Two New Mexico House Democrats are ailing and could miss a significant chunk of the 30-day legislative session that begins today, legislative leaders confirmed Monday.
However, House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said Reps. Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces and Ernest Chavez of Albuquerque plan to keep up with legislative proceedings from a distance.
“I have not talked to them about resigning,” Martinez told reporters. “They’re engaged and ready to go.”
Lawmakers can vote only if they’re physically present in the legislative chambers. If Archuleta and Chavez were to miss an extended time period – or the entire legislative session – their absence could affect key votes in the House, where Democrats hold a narrow 37-33 majority.
Archuleta, who is recovering from hip surgery, will be “fully engaged” in the session and will monitor the session’s early stages via computer, according to House Democrats.
Less information was available about Chavez, a five-term lawmaker who has reportedly been ill.
Meanwhile, top-ranking legislators voted Monday to approve a policy that lays out how many days worth of compensation legislative leaders – both Republican and Democrat – can receive for their leadership work.
Under the policy, the House speaker and Senate president pro tem will each be able to claim eight days annually of per diem, or daily, payments for their leadership work. With the current per diem rate set at $159, that amounts to $1,272 each per year.
Democratic and Republican floor leaders in both chambers will be able to claim up to six days’ per diem annually, while whips can be reimbursed for four days’ worth of per diem.
Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, who recommended the new policy at a meeting of the Legislative Council, described it as a “fairness” issue.
“It’s not right that they have to use their own resources to do the business of the state,” he said.
Previously, per diem for leadership work had been approved on an upon-request basis, Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga said. There has been no limit on how many days per year can be reimbursed.
While he voted for it, Senate Republican Whip William Payne of Albuquerque voiced concern that the new policy could eventually “snowball” to include other legislators, increasing how much money the state pays out to part-time lawmakers.
New Mexico is the only state in the nation that does not pay its legislators a salary, though lawmakers receive the per diem for every day they spend in session or attending interim committee meetings.