Legislators announce return to in-person committee hearings

In this Monday, April 5, 2021, photo Jonathan Chilton, 14, center, sits on his BMX bike in front of the New Mexico state capitol ahead of a bill signing by the governor in Santa Fe, N.M. Chilton started school remotely on Tuesday following the Easter break. Around half of his classmates are now studying in-person, and he's not sure if he should go back with just a few weeks left in the semester.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators will return in July to in-person committee meetings amid evidence of retreating coronavirus infections and risks, the state House speaker announced Monday.

Legislative hearings have been conducted largely by web conference since the spring of 2020 as a precaution against the pandemic.

“We're going to return to our normal protocol of in-person meetings just like before the pandemic," Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe told a panel of leading legislators via videoconference.

The Capitol building reopened to the public last week and a lead budget-writing committee gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives to hear testimony from a top state health official and other experts.

Also Monday, Democrats appointed a new task force on rural economic opportunity and shuffled leadership posts on some year-round committees.

First term Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City and state Rep. Candie Sweetser of Deming will together lead the new task force as co-chairwomen to identify barriers to rural prosperity and bring forward proposals to ensure universal access to full indoor plumbing, electricity and internet that often are unavailable in remote areas of the state.

Correa Hemphill ran on a progressive platform to defeat incumbent Sen. Gabriel Ramos in the Democratic 2020 primary election as voters ousted several conservative-leaning Democrats from the state Senate. Sweetser stands at the other end of the Democratic spectrum, voting this year against Democratic-sponsored initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana, overturn a dormant state ban on most abortion procedures and strip police of immunity from prosecution in state courts.

Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces will take the reins as chairman of the Legislative Education Study Committee that accompanies a legislative oversight agency on public education. State Rep. Andres Romero of Albuquerque is moving into the vice chairman position at the committee.

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