"New Mexico State Capitol, Santa Fe, New Mexico" by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham hinted concern about the state’s ability to hold “an in-person legislative session” next year due to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

During her press briefing on Nov. 5, the governor expressed considerable alarm at the increasing infection and morbidity rates in the state. Lujan Grisham announced 23 new deaths and 862 new infections, saying, “This is uncontrollable community spread. We can control the rate of infections but we just aren’t.”

With the General Election behind us, a new Legislature will be seated in January. However, their ability to meet in person was questioned by the governor. “We’ve completely lost November… If we don’t have a good December, we’re going to have a disastrous January, which would mean we may not be able to have an in-person legislative session,” said Lujan Grisham.

The 2020 June special session was rife with difficulty for both legislators and the public. Legislators attempted to meet through Zoom, however meetings were interrupted by technical difficulties like internet connectivity issues and Zoombombing, which is an unauthorized intrusion into the web conferencing platform. Eventually, those technical difficulties were largely resolved, but not before it slowed legislators.

In an interview with KOB, Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto said, “We then stop doing business if the public is not able to observe what we can do. That has really created a lot of challenges for what, in a special session, should be the ability to come in, get the business done and go home.” Those technical difficulties prompted New Mexicans to express concern about transparency in government during the special session. Public participation was significantly hampered. 

Debating changes to rules in the House of Representatives, Minority Whip Rod Montoya (R-San Juan) questioned the legitimacy of remote voting for legislators. “If we now define presence [as being able to vote remotely] … are we now setting a precedent where the governor could leave the state, leave the country, as long as there is a cellphone in her purse? I know that’s not what this addresses, but that is the precedent that we’re setting here.”

As the June 2020 special session adjourned, State House Speaker Brian Egolf said he hopes to “never have to do a hybrid session with virtual participation again.”

In her press briefing the governor did not release an amended public health order but she and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrace painted a grim picture for the last two months of the year. Lujan Grisham seemed to be hinting to the legislature and to the public that if we do not take the coronavirus seriously, legislators, lobbyists, and the public may not be able to participate in the 2021 legislative session in a meaningful way.