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Lawmakers gather in person for 2023 session amid record revenues


The 2023 legislative session is in full-swing; with representatives and senators settling in and discussing bills. KUNM spoke with Gwyneth Doland, a political correspondent for New Mexico PBS, who was in Santa Fe this week talking to lawmakers about their priorities for this 60-day session and how it feels to be back in person.

GWYNETH DOLAND: I have to say it has been really hard to do reporting during the pandemic. And I think everyone in the Roundhouse is feeling that right now. I gave a lot of hugs yesterday, I saw a lot of other people giving hugs, people are glad to be back in person. And I think a lot more gets done. I will say that I was happy to see the legislature say they're going to keep allowing people to testify remotely. Because we have known for years that it is really hard in such a geographically large state, for regular people to make their voices heard to lawmakers.

KUNM: What are some of the strategies lawmakers have coming in when deciding on which bills to pass?

DOLAND: We talk about this all the time. I've been covering the legislature for more than a decade, and everyone talks about this cycle of boom and bust, we are in a boom, right now, oil and gas is booming. We've got a record-high surplus of money to spend in the budget. What we ended up seeing in years like this, and again, this is not too different, is that people come with really big ideas. And then there's a debate over ‘Well, can we afford to do this right now?’ Because yes, we have the money this year. But are we going to have it next year.

KUNM: As we know, we will have a 60-day session rather than a 30-day session this year. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to this?

DOLAND: The advantage of a 60-day is that things get a good vetting. There's enough time for ideas to come and be heard by different committees, enough time often for the public to give their input. Now the 30-day session is supposed to mostly be about a budget, it is a sprint, and if anything else happens, it's pretty special. A lot of people watch the state of the state and they say, look at these people wasting our time, why aren't they doing anything. And you know, I worked in the State Senate as a clerk, so I saw exactly how long it takes just for the dang bills to get moved through the building, to being written, to being introduced, they have to build their committees, they've got to meet, and we have to give the public an opportunity to weigh in. So right now, it looks like there's nothing happening up there. But it's just because they're getting started.

KUNM: What are some of the main priorities for this legislative session?

DOLAND: Well in the interviews that we did yesterday, we talked to some folks who are really excited about getting some infrastructure projects done. Obviously, the governor's big priorities are education, she's got some really big proposals, I think there's going to be heavy debate on those. We've got some proposals she's putting forth on public safety and crime. Now, here's what we know is going to happen, the vast majority of these things are not going to pass. Right? You know, every year, there's, I don't know, something like 2000 bills are introduced, and they pass like 200. So in order for something to become law, it's a little bit hard. So I think the public needs to be engaged, and they need to let their lawmakers know what their priorities are and what they want to see happen. Because, frankly, with a lot of money, a lot is possible.

KUNM:  Is there any early opposition to any certain topic so far?

DOLAND: Yes, of course, one of the governor's priorities is extended learning. So having students in school a little bit longer. Jeanette, you and I were together yesterday, when I did an informal poll about extended learning. And you know, a lot of people, a lot of students that are like, 'No I do not want to be in school any longer.' I know some young people very close to me who would oppose that idea. But, you know, there's this argument that we lost so much during the pandemic, and that we should make up for it by spending more time in school. There are a lot of strong arguments on both sides and I think we'll see a lot of that during this session.

KUNM: Gwyneth, thank you for coming on and spending your time with us.

DOLAND: Jeanette, thank you so much for working with us on this project this session and I hope that we will talk more about it.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s currently a part of the Local News Fund Fellowship where she will be working with KUNM-FM and NMPBS during her 9-month fellowship where she will gain hands-on newsroom experience. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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