New Mexico lawmakers prepare for opening day at the Roundhouse

Benito Sisneros, who works with the Capitol security team, monitors Cayden Diamond, 14, daughter of Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, as she enters the Roundhouse in Santa Fe Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — More metal detectors — no pandemic restrictions — will greet visitors to Tuesday’s roundhouse as lawmakers open a 60-day session and prepare for the state’s first in-person speech in three years.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will deliver the annual speech in the New Mexico House of Representatives before a joint session of both houses.

The agenda for the first day of the Legislature also includes electing a new House Speaker, reshuffling some committee posts and drafting legislation to cover the costs of the session itself.

Opening day for lawmakers also comes as police investigate a series of shootings at the homes and offices of elected Democratic officials in Albuquerque.

State troopers have been assigned to the Capitol for this session – as usual – and visitors will be screened for firearms upon entering the building. Legislative staffers said they are adding additional metal detectors to handle the influx of visitors.

At a meeting of leaders in the Legislature Monday, Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt also asked R-Rio Rancho for state police to handle contingencies following the Albuquerque shooting.

“I just want to make sure that if we have a problem, we can solve it,” he said of the police presence.

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, the administrative arm of the legislature, said state police expect to be present in the building every day for as long as lawmakers meet, either in committee or during a chamber session.

“We’re as ready as we can be,” he said.

The public was barred from the Capitol for parts of 2020 and 2021 before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available. Vaccinations and masks were later made compulsory for visitors.

But there is no vaccination or mask mandate this year.

Lawmakers said Monday they would be happy to see the Roundhouse return to normal activities.

“We’re definitely looking forward to having a good day tomorrow and having family and friends with us,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “We missed that enormously in the last two years.”

The session comes after a tough campaign season — with abortion and crime at the heart of the attack publicity — and Democrats retained control of the governor’s executive and legislature branches.

They will have a 45-25 lead over Republicans in the House and a 27-15 majority in the Senate.

House Democrats have nominated Albuquerque MP Javier Martínez as the new speaker.

If confirmed by the full chamber, he would replace Santa Fe’s Brian Egolf, who did not seek re-election and is leaving the legislature.

Both chambers can also ratify some changes in committee governance.

The House Judiciary Committee loses its chair, Albuquerque Democrat Gail Chasey, after she was selected as majority chair.

On the Senate side, Democrat Katy Duhigg of Albuquerque has been proposed as the next chair of the Senate Rules Committee.

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