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In less than a week, the governor and legislators will officially open the 2021 60-day legislative session—and no one will be there to see. That’s because, for the first time in our state’s 105-year history, the legislature will be closed to the public.

As any public school teacher can tell you, keeping a horde of unruly, attention-seeking, non tech-savvy hoodlums on task online isn’t easy. It’s not likely legislators will behave much better. But here we are, so here we go.

If the pandemic had not gotten in the way, the 2021 session would likely have been the governor’s best session to date. New legislators (mostly women, I might note) will bring a more progressive lean to the Senate’s Democratic caucus, creating an opportunity to invest in both recovery and resilience.

If anything, the pandemic has exacerbated many of New Mexico’s most long-standing challenges. Poverty, unequal health access, lack of broadband and dismal education results all pre-dated COVID, but their presence exaggerated the impact. That’s why it’s important for the legislature to give real consideration to some of the governor’s biggest budget items, including $10 million for broadband access and almost $900 million for behavioral health support, just to name a few. And small businesses and workers, especially those in hospitality and tourism, still need help.

Thankfully, our boom or bust oil economy is heading back toward boom. That gives legislators enough cash to extend that short-term help a little while longer. But it is an important reminder that it’s time to diversify away from a reliance on fossil fuels.

Speaking of the economy, this may finally be the year New Mexico legalizes cannabis. As the governor is quick to point out, it would create an estimated 11,000 jobs we can’t export to Denver or Austin, and that extra revenue boost would really come in handy about now. Of course, once you have enough votes to pass it, the details start to matter. There’s a lot of money on the table, so watch for late-night committees and last-minute moves.

If that seems like a tall order for just 60 days, it is. And doing it digitally will make it even harder for the public to follow.

That makes the work of journalists even more important than ever. At The Paper., we believe information is power. So while other newspapers make you pay to read their coverage, we’re opening all of our coverage up for free.

To start, this week we’re bringing you the Citizen’s Guide to a Virtual Legislature, a 40-page look at the big issues, big personalities and big hurdles ahead in New Mexico’s most unusual session.

Then, to be sure legislation doesn’t get done in the dark, we’re drafting all of our reporters and a few special contributors to bring you daily reports of the biggest debates and hot topics to watch for next. We’ll even have ways you can connect to legislators about stories you read.

Get started by becoming a daily digital subscriber (it’s free!) at abq.news.

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