June 22, 2020 •
New Mexico Supreme Court Issues Ruling to Ban
In a 3-2 decision on June 16, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied a request allowing lobbyists and public into the Capitol, known as the Roundhouse, during the special legislative session beginning June 18.
Chief Justice Judith Nakamura described the decision as a difficult ruling to make. However, Nakamura concurred with Justices Barbara Vigil and Michael Vigil in denying the petition. 24 lawmakers submitted this proposal which would have opened the Roundhouse to lobbyists and the public for the special session.
The petition argued that prohibiting lobbyists from entering the Roundhouse violates the constitutional requirement to make all legislative sessions public.
New Mexico’s constitution provides all sessions of each house must be public. Justices challenged attorneys on both sides to define the term “public” and explain in detail what constitutes a public session.
Justice C. Shannon Bacon expressed concern about large parts of the state not having broadband. She also emphasized that thousands of people do not have access to computers, describing New Mexico as a technological desert.
The Supreme Court concluded virtual proceedings balance the need to protect the public from the public health concerns of COVID-19 with the need to ensure the legislative session remains open and transparent.
The ruling means those who wish to follow the session will watch the hearings from their computer screens. This will be current reality, rather than gathering in committee rooms and House and Senate galleries.
The public will be able to speak at the discretion of the House committee chairs via Zoom video conference call. However, the public will only be allowed to send emails, rather than joining a video conference, to address the Senate’s committee.
Beginning June 18, lawmakers will begin debating how to shore up an estimated $2 billion shortfall in projected revenues for the fiscal year 2021 budget. This shortfall is largely due to the pandemic-related government shutdown.
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