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New Mexico Legislature considers ‘hybrid’ session for safety

December 15, 2020 GMT
People protesting the health orders of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stand outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. The Capitol, which houses the offices of the governor and the legislature, was closed to the public at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislators are meeting Tuesday to pass an economic relief bill. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
People protesting the health orders of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stand outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. The Capitol, which houses the offices of the governor and the legislature, was closed to the public at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislators are meeting Tuesday to pass an economic relief bill. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
People protesting the health orders of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stand outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. The Capitol, which houses the offices of the governor and the legislature, was closed to the public at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislators are meeting Tuesday to pass an economic relief bill. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The next regular session of the New Mexico Legislature in early 2021 is likely to be held in a hybrid mode with committee hearings taking place online and some in-person deliberations, leading Democratic lawmakers indicated Monday.

Democratic Senate majority leaders Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said a “huge piece” of the next session likely will be conducted online through video conferencing as a precaution against pandemic dangers, though final decisions won’t be made until January. He noted that many local governments are conducting public business entirely online.

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The comments came during an online-only meeting of top-ranked lawmakers and legal counsel to the Legislature. The state’s lead budget writing committee last week abandoned in-person meetings. It was unclear what prompted that decision.

A 60-day legislative session is scheduled to convene on Jan. 19. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has raised the prospect of postponing major reforms until later in the year after quickly approving a budget, while top Democratic legislators appear determined to stick to the normal schedule.

The Democratic House speaker indicated that online committee hearings are likely and that the House will limit the number of bills that can be introduced by each member to five to streamline the session.

He said that the House no longer supports a proposal to move in-person committee meetings to a downtown convention center in Santa Fe to provide greater social distancing.

Republican minority leader Jim Townsend says a per-person cap on bills favors Democrats, who will hold a 45-25 majority in the coming year.