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New House speaker urges pragmatism

SANTA FE – A new guard of legislative leaders made a splash Tuesday, moving quickly to bolster transparency rules and reshuffle the House committee structure.

Within the first hour of the 60-day legislative session, new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, moved to change the Senate rules to allow for webcasting of floor sessions and committee hearings to be archived on the Legislature’s website.

The motion passed unanimously and took effect immediately, meaning both legislative chambers will now archive their webcasts after years of opposition.

“This is going to be a huge step forward in the transparency of the Legislature, so the people can know the public’s business,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who sponsored a similar rule change last year as a member of the House.

With Democrats having reclaimed control of the House in the November election, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected by acclamation as the new speaker of the House.

In a brief speech, he thanked outgoing House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, who last month had submitted his resignation from the Legislature, effective Tuesday, after Democrats had reclaimed control of the 70-member chamber in last fall’s election.

Egolf also urged lawmakers to approach issues pragmatically during the 60-day session, especially an ongoing budget shortfall that’s already prompted sweeping budget cuts.

“No party or person has a monopoly on good ideas,” Egolf said.

Later Tuesday, Majority House Democrats moved to reshuffle the chamber’s committee structure – just as Republicans did two years ago – by renaming several committees and adding one new committee.

Republicans objected to some of the changes, with House GOP Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, expressing concern the creation of an additional committee could lead to more missed votes for lawmakers during the session’s final weeks, when committees sometimes meet while the full House is debating legislation.

“It just created a conflict that I don’t think we need,” Gentry said.

However, the proposal was approved 38-29.

Meanwhile, the House also adopted a rule change enshrining the practice of posting proposed floor amendments to the legislative website.

It was started under former House chief clerk Denise Ramonas, who got the job after Republicans won control of the House in 2014.

A new House chief clerk, Lisa Ortiz McCutcheon, had her nomination approved Tuesday without dissent.

House Democratic leaders also announced the makeup of the revamped committees, including new committee chairs.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, who was named chairman of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, acknowledged he’d done a “little lobbying” for the post.

“It’s got some really important issues, and it’s my background, so I’m very happy about that,” said McQueen, a two-term lawmaker and environmental attorney.

In addition to winning back control of the state House in the November elections, Democrats also expanded their majority in the Senate. They will enter the legislative session with a 38-32 majority in the House and a 26-16 advantage over Republicans in the Senate.

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