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THE VIEW FROM HERE

A legislative session without all the hoopla

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If they get the technology right, this could be one of the most productive 60-day sessions in the history of the New Mexico Legislature. It will undoubtedly be the least ceremonious.

Most years, a legislative session is much more than just updated budgets and new laws. It is a celebration of our culture, an educational eye-opener for students and a gathering spot for local leaders from throughout the state.

The Roundhouse rotunda is filled with booths from groups throughout the state. There’s a different theme every day. Everybody’s favorite is Ag Day, which always comes toward the end of the session and features a meal of New Mexico meat and dairy products.

Every morning, yellow school buses drop off students from throughout New Mexico. Some are wide-eyed. Some are bored. Some seem to have mischief on their mind. Close behind them is a teacher making sure nobody wanders away from the group.

Every decent-sized town in the state gets its own day, when the business and government leaders all go to Santa Fe to rub elbows with the governor. They hope. Some years they have to settle for legislators.

A senator and representative from that town will each sponsor a memorial declaring how great their town is. They will then use valuable time on the House and Senate floor extolling the virtues of their community and all who have ever lived there, before the unanimous vote that will inevitably follow.

And it doesn’t stop with honoring towns. In the last 60-day session in 2019, memorials were also passed to honor or draw attention to the Speech-Language Hearing Association, Presbyterian Medical, public educators, retired educators, Amtrak, Asian-Americans, bikepackers, board certified teachers, Spaceport America, rural electric cooperatives, school nutrition, UNM, foster parents, young farmers, the oil and gas industry, uranium workers, heart disease, acequias, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, autism, FFA, veterans, multiple sclerosis, Chevel Shepherd, Dolores Huerta, school boards, older women in the military, Boy Scouts, Dee Rusanowski and Alzheimer’s Disease.

That was just in the House. The Senate had its own list. Each memorial is an opportunity for people representing those groups to come to Santa Fe and watch from the gallery as their hometown lawmakers go on and on about how great they are.

And then there’s the singing and dancing, Mariachi groups from throughout the state, often accompanied by Folklorico dancers. And, performers from the Santa Fe Opera appearing in full costume.

It drove me nuts at first. Hundreds of bills die without ever being heard each session because the clock runs out, and these guys are prattling on about uranium workers.

I eventually came to accept that those moments of recognition were important for the people involved. And, I realized that was a time when I could stop paying attention to what they were doing on the floor and get caught up on other things.

But I always wondered how much work they could get done if they cut out all the ceremonial stuff.

We’ll find out this year. The COVID-19 pandemic will keep all but lawmakers and staff out of the Roundhouse.

There is also a new Senate this year, following a Primary Election purge of longtime, establishment Democrats like Mary Kay Papen and John Arthur Smith. The expectation is that change will bring a new opportunity to pass a slew of bills that have already been endorsed by the House.

It won’t be nearly as colorful or noisy this year in Santa Fe, but it may be a lot more productive.

Walt Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel