Lawmakers meet in person for 2023 session amid record revenue

The 2023 legislative period is in full swing; with representatives and senators settling and discussing bills. KUNM spoke to Gwyneth Doland, a political correspondent for New Mexico PBS, who was in Santa Fe this week speaking with lawmakers about their priorities for this 60-day session and how it feels to be back in person.

GWYNETH DOLAND: I have to say it has been really difficult to report during the pandemic. And I think everyone in the Roundhouse is feeling that right now. I gave a lot of hugs yesterday, I saw a lot of other people giving hugs, people are happy to be in person again. And I think a lot more is being done. I will say I was glad lawmakers said they would continue to allow people to testify remotely. Because we’ve known for years that in a state that’s so geographically large, it’s really difficult for ordinary people to make themselves heard before the legislature.

KUNM: What strategies do legislators follow when deciding which laws to pass?

DOLAND: We talk about it all the time. I’ve been covering the Legislature for well over a decade and everyone is talking about this cycle of boom and bust, we’re in a boom right now, oil and gas is booming. We have a record high surplus of money in the household to spend. What we’ve seen in years like this, and it’s not too different, is that people come up with really big ideas. And then there’s a debate about, ‘Well, can we afford to do this now?’. Because yes, we have the money this year. But we will have it next year.

KUNM: As we know, this year we’re going to have a 60-day session instead of a 30-day session. What are the advantages and disadvantages?

DOLAND: The advantage of 60 days is that things are well checked. There is enough time to contribute ideas and to be heard by different committees, enough time, often enough, for the public to have their input. Now the 30 day session is supposed to be mostly about a budget, it’s a sprint and if anything else happens it’s pretty special. A lot of people are watching the state of the state and saying look at these people who are wasting our time why aren’t they doing anything. And you know, I’ve been clerk in the state senate, so I’ve seen exactly how long it takes for the damn bills to get carried through the building, get written, get brought in, they gotta set up their committees, they gotta meet , and we must give the public the opportunity to express themselves. So right now it looks like nothing is happening up there. But it’s only because they start.

KUNM: What are some of the main priorities for this legislature?

DOLAND: Well, in the interviews we did yesterday, we spoke to some people who are really excited about getting some infrastructure projects done. Obviously the governor’s big priorities are education, she has some really big proposals, I think there’s going to be a lot of debate on that. We have some suggestions that she makes on public safety and crime. Well here’s what we know is going to happen, the vast majority of these things aren’t going to happen. To the right? You know, every year, I don’t know, about 2,000 bills are introduced and about 200 are passed. So, for something to become law, it’s a bit difficult. So I think the public needs to be involved and they need to let their legislators know what their priorities are and what they want to see. To be honest, a lot is possible with a lot of money.

KUNM: So far, has there been any early opposition to a certain topic?

DOLAND: Yes, of course, advanced learning is one of the governor’s priorities. So having the students at school a little longer. Jeanette, you and I were together yesterday when I was conducting an informal survey on extended learning. And you know, a lot of people, a lot of students, they’re like, ‘No, I do Not don’t want to be in school anymore.’ I know some young people who are very close to me and would oppose this idea. But you know, there’s this argument that we’ve lost so much during the pandemic and that we should make up for it by spending more time in school. There are many strong arguments on both sides and I think we will see a lot of them during this session.

CUMM: Gwyneth, thank you for coming and spending your time with us.

DOLAND: Jeanette, thank you for working with us on this project during this session and I hope we will talk more about it.