By Lance Chilton
Website Tutorial IV: Committees and Webcasts.
Someone once defined a committee as a collection of people who individually believe something must be done and who collectively decide that nothing can be done. Whether or not this definition has merit, it is difficult to imagine the work of a legislative body being accomplished without reliance upon the committee system. (from the preface to the Legislature’s Committee Handbook).
Members of the New Mexico House and Senate put in many hours at committee meetings; they work hard to get on committees matching their interests and they work hard during those meetings. Prior to COVID – long ago! – the public could comment during most committee meetings when a bill of interest to them was brought to a committee. The time allowed was limited, often to one or two minutes, and comment could only be done in person, in the Roundhouse. This was difficult, especially for those living far from Santa Fe, and trips to the Capitol to testify were frequently sabotaged by schedule changes.
The pandemic has forced many changes in procedure in the Roundhouse; one of the best changes has been allowing public comment by electronic means. So whether one is Raton or Lordsburg or Shiprock or Lovington or in Bernalillo County, anyone has had the ability to comment on a bill while it’s being heard in a committee far from home without leaving that home. Although I have been unable to find the rules for public comment during the 2023 Legislature Regular Session, from all that I have heard they will be similar to the rules for remote comment during the Interim Committee meetings (see https://www.nmlegis.gov/Publications/Public%20Comment%20Procedure%20and%20Guidelines.pdf.)
By clicking on the “Committees” tab on the nmlegis.gov page (I’ve circled it in red below), you can find a great deal of information about the 14 House and 9 Senate session time committees. You can find out who the members and the chair are, and during the session, what days and times the committee meets, and what any given day’s agenda is, although it may change for a variety of reasons by clicking on an individual committee. You can also find similar information about the interim committees, usually made up of both senators and representatives, but you won’t need that info until at least March 16, the last day of the session.
But going back to session committees, let’s click on Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee (SHPAC). You’ll find that it’s chaired by Albuquerque Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, and its members include Democratic Senators Tallman (the vice-chair); McKenna, Sedillo Lopez and Stefanics and Republicans Gallegos, Ingle and Schmedes. You’ll see that it meets MWF at 1:30 pm (or after the senators have a lunch break after morning floor sessions). You’ll see an agenda for the next upcoming meeting, including which bills will be heard that day. At the bottom of the agenda, you’ll find instructions for making a video comment. Here’s one example from the SHPAC agenda of February 2, 2022: “For public participation,click the link below to join the zoom webinar:https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87967039414 or via telephone 1 669 900 9128.” Again, I can’t yet find instructions for the coming year, but I suspect they will be similar.
Suppose you just want to watch a committee meeting or a floor session – all are available to you through the “Webcast” link at the top of the page, which I’ve circled above in green. At the moment, if you click on this link, you’ll see a message, “Sorry there are no upcoming events.” You’ll have to wait until the 2023 session begins to have a choice of events going on at the moment.
But wait, you can’t go away empty-handed. On the left side of the page, you’ll see a calendar. Let’s say you want to see the hearing SHPAC held on February 2, 2022. It’s archived here: enter the date and then scroll down to SHPAC, click on that bar, and you can see the entire 2 hour 3 minute hearing.
Let’s say you want to hear Republican Senator Bill Sharer’s filibustering speech on the last day of the 2022 regular session: you can learn all about fly-fishing, baseball, and numerous other somewhat humorous topics that ran out the clock on the Senate Floor on the last day of the session; they were humorous if you didn’t care about any of the bills, such as the Voting Rights Provisions Act (2022 Senate Bill 8) that he was holding hostage. But if you really want to hear it, enter the date Feb. 17, 2022 and then click on Senate Chamber meeting, 9:22 am – 12:11 pm.