State legislators are looking ahead to future emergency orders, even as businesses and individuals struggle with current changing pandemic circumstances.
State Sen. Craig Brandt, a Republican, represents a large portion of Rio Rancho.
“The main thing for our state is we need to open up; if you look at the other states that are open, their cases are no greater than ours when you look at per capita,” Brandt said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, New Mexico falls 36th-highest out of 60 on a ranking of number of average daily cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days for all U.S. states and territories, as updated Feb. 12, the most recent numbers available at press time. New Mexico had average daily cases per 100,000 in the last seven days of 17.3, the same as Indiana and one rank below the District of Columbia, which had 16.8.
“Our businesses have to have consistency; they have to know when they put that food order in that they are going to be actually open to sell that food so it doesn’t spoil because that is just adding insult to injury,” Brandt said.
Senate Bill 3 amends and extends the Small Business Recovery Act of 2020 from $400 million to $500 million of available funds.
“We have all these bills that we are going to throw money at businesses, mostly in loans, and these businesses don’t want loans. They just want to re-open their doors and they just want to know they can stay open,” Brandt said.
There is a lack of checks and balances with the state government, he said.
“We are a system of checks and balances, and the legislature should always have a role in whether or not we should continue an emergency order,” he said.
Senate Bill 74 adds a section to emergency powers that would automatically terminate public health emergency orders, defaulting to legislators for renewal or amendment. Public health orders limiting gatherings or closing businesses would last 14 days, and then legislators would be able to renew or amend them. For public health orders regarding anything else, the limit is 30 days before they must go to the legislature.
“Can we really still call this an emergency after 11 months and after we know what mitigating factors we need to take to get it under control? The science does: Wear a mask and social distance,” Brandt said.
State Rep. Daymon Ely, a Corrales Democrat, is sponsoring House Bill 139, which would balance powers among the three branches of government, he said.
After a declaration of a state of emergency, the act will automatically terminate after 90 days unless the governor calls the legislature into a special session to address the circumstances of the state of emergency, according to the bill.
If House Bill 139 and Senate Bill 74 pass their respective houses, a group of legislators from each house will meet to iron out the differences. Then the consensus bill would go back to both houses for a vote before being sent to the governor.
“Even though I want to have some oversight in her powers, it is not a criticism of the governor. It really is about three branches of government,” Ely said.
He said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing a great job and is keeping long-term goals in mind. The governor is avoiding opening prematurely, which could result in a spike of COVID cases, he said.
“It just seems like every time, businesses go, ‘We got to open right now,’ and I can understand that temptation. But then the virus spreads and then we got a public health problem, and the thing that we don’t want is our hospitals filled up,” he said. “That is what we don’t want and that is why the governor is being so careful, because you don’t want hospitals starting to ration medical care. We have never faced that, but other states have.”
Ely is optimistic about the economic recovery with the new administration in the White House.
“I think I am very optimistic that in a month or a month and a half from now, we are going to be rocking and rolling,” he said.
He said the legislation is buckling down to help businesses in the future, with Senate Bill 3 passing in the Senate 35 to 3, making its way to the House Taxation & Revenue Committee.
“Businesses are going to get big help financially. …” he said. “We are doing everything we can to loosen things up and get people money and try to support businesses. I think New Mexico is going to be in a better position to help than most states.”