Generally, New Mexico has three branches of government, but during declared emergencies, the legislative branch is moot and irrelevant because of the way the Public Health Emergency Response Act was codified.
The 2003 law hadn’t been used since its inception until its use during COVID-19. We are now reaping its unintended consequences of executive over-reach that suppresses civil rights and liberty.
As stated in the act, one of its purposes is to, “…provide the state of New Mexico with the ability to manage public-health emergencies in a manner that protects civil rights and the liberties of individual persons…” Yet state senators and representatives who are closest to state residents and most able to parry assaults on constituents’ rights and liberties are left impotent under the law.
PHERA neglects legislative input, influence and oversight before and during declared emergencies; and in so doing, it diminishes assurance of individual persons’ civil rights and liberties.
To make themselves relevant again and ensure that we actually have a representative democracy during COVID-19 and future public-health emergencies, the state legislature should amend PHERA during the June special legislative session.
An amended PHERA should require the governor to convene a special legislative session within seven days of declaring an emergency with a purpose to ratify, modify or deny any emergency declaration executive order.
Renewals of emergency declarations should also be subject to legislative review and approval.
Ben Franklin may have said it best: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It is past time for the legislature to insert itself to help protect liberty and safety.
George L. Wright