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From the Publisher

No fences at the Roundhouse, but still a different look, feel

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More often than not, when the Bulletin produces its annual Southwest New Mexico Legislative Guide, I’m in Santa Fe on the Monday before the legislative session starts on Tuesday. For as long as I can remember, that Monday has fallen on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The holiday means traffic in the Roundhouse (the nickname for the State Capitol) is lighter than you might expect on the eve of the session’s opening day.

Of course, the added effect of a pandemic also has a big impact on the number of people in the building.

Last year, in 2021, the entire Roundhouse grounds were encircled in temporary fencing, and guarded by State Police and National Guardsmen and dogs. The fences went up well before the session and stayed throughout. No one was granted easy access to the center of the New Mexico people’s business. The precautions were in place because of the pandemic, but accelerated after Jan. 6, when state capitols all over the country received threats. The 2021 New Mexico session opened Jan. 19, a day ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, another event that generated threats to state capitol buildings. That created even more heightened security at the Roundhouse.

This year, I was greatly relieved to see no fencing around the State Capitol.

No fences, but still very far from normal.

There was increased security upon entry, in the form of an ID and vaccination card checkpoint, as well as a metal detector, but at least you could enter the building. Your entry also means you put on a face mask, required throughout the building.

However, if you’re packing anything more powerful than a Swiss Army knife, you’d better leave it at home. After years of allowing open-carry weapons in the state capitol building, that is nixed this year.

The Roundhouse Rotunda, the spacious circular lobby around which the Capitol pivots, is normally packed on Opening Day, and on most days of the sessions information tables from different groups throughout New Mexico flood the area. This year, however, the Rotunda was empty, save for a Covid-19 testing station, another first.

You could also get tested on your walk to the Roundhouse, at a purple Mercedes Sprinter van on Old Santa Fe Trail, just off the Plaza. Painted on the side of the van in big letters, was “Covid-19 testing,” and above that, “Howdy y’all.”

On crowded days at the Roundhouse, expect long lines during the lobby checkpoint. When I went through Monday there was not much activity, but it still took longer than I thought it would. Visitors Monday, according to a sign-in sheet, included people from Australia and Minnesota, but it was still not very crowded.

Tuesday, Opening Day, I was early enough to beat the bigger crowds, but you could tell the big buzz was coming. Legislators were gradually coming in and entering their offices, some getting to know new staff. Activity continues increasing until the governor’s state-of-the-state address.

Normally, the legislators save their sparring until after the speech, but in Tuesday morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican, an article previewing the session included quotes from Democratic Speaker of the House Brian Egolf of Santa Fe and Republican Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho. They were sniping at each other about the proof of Covid vaccination requirements. Specifically, Brandt wondered why the requirement included not just an initial vaccination, but also a booster.

By the end of February, barring an unexpected special session, the 2022 legislature will be over. Then begins the REAL political season: Campaign Time.