SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Does the governor have too much power? Some state lawmakers believe they should have more say during emergency public health orders. For the past ten months, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has called all the shots when deciding how to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now some state lawmakers from both sides of the table believe they should have some say and are drafting legislation for the upcoming session.
Since March, Governor Lujan Grisham declared the coronavirus pandemic a public health emergency. It has allowed Lujan Grisham to make every decision that has impacted businesses, social gatherings, schools, and more in an effort to stop the spread of the contagious virus.
Under the current law, the governor has the power to declare a public health emergency. The law says after 30 days, the public health emergency order automatically terminates unless it’s renewed by the governor. For the past ten months, the governor has continued to renew the order. So now, state lawmakers are chiming in.
“We’ve been totally left out of the decision making process,” said Rep. Greg Nibert (R- Roswell).
“On the emergency declaration, the problem is not the governor, the problem is us,” said Rep. Daymon Ely (D- Corrales). “The problem is when we drafted this legislation, we took the legislature out of the process.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers are working together to revisit the public health emergency law so that they can have more say and represent their areas. “I feel strongly that the legislature has a constitutional role to play in not only developing public policy but in appropriating the funds necessary to deal with any such emergency such as the one we’ve been in now for over nine months,” said Rep. Nibert.
The bill is not finalized yet, but the idea is that legislators would decide to extend, amend, or terminate the public health emergency. Lawmakers said they’re not trying to limit the governor’s powers when emergencies come up. “If Clovis, New Mexico gets hit with a tornado this spring, the governor needs to act and act quickly and take care of that problem,” said Rep. Nibert.
But rather, allow lawmakers to get more involved. “So we’re trying to balance, and that’s what we’re talking about now, balance the governor’s executive authority to have enough flexibility to do the right thing while at the same time getting the legislature at some point to get us involved in the process to do oversight,” said Rep. Ely.
Rep. Ely adds that this proposal should not be perceived as criticism of the governor, but rather an opportunity to work across party lines. Rep. Nibert proposed bills like this during the two special sessions in 2020, but they did not get heard.
The governor’s office sent News 13 a statement: The governor’s office will review legislation as it makes its way through the legislative session. Nationwide, we have seen clearly that states have benefited from being able to take immediate action to manage the pandemic, including New Mexico. There is no question that the governor’s ability to respond quickly to the pandemic has saved lives.