GOP leaders express 'strong disappointment' in special session during Holy Week

Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·3 min read

Mar. 25—Plans to hold a special legislative session during Holy Week to reach a deal on legalizing recreational marijuana is drawing sharp criticism from Republican leaders.

While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has yet to announce a specific start date, she said at the conclusion of the 60-day session Saturday that a special session would be held "on or about March 31." Good Friday is April 2, and Easter Sunday is April 4.

The governor's press secretary wrote in an email Thursday that more information about the special session would be provided "as soon as the start date is finalized."

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, the Senate minority leader, said he expects the special session will "probably start Tuesday or Wednesday."

"We don't have a date nailed down until she actually makes the call," he said.

Baca called it "poor timing" to hold a special session during Holy Week. But in general, he said, New Mexico shouldn't be holding a special session to address the legalization of recreational marijuana, which lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on during the regular session.

"I think 60 days was sufficient, and it didn't pass in 60 days, so at best, what we're going to get now is a rushed measure," he said.

Baca also criticized the cost.

If the state maintains the same level of security at the Roundhouse it did during the 60-day session, "you could be looking up to $90,000 a day — those are dollars that we could save for the taxpayers," Baca said.

In a Wednesday letter to the governor, Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives also raised concerns about the cost, which they pegged at closer to $83,000 a day.

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said costs can vary but generally run about $50,000 a day. While security will still be evident, it won't be as beefed up as it was during the regular session, he said.

"We won't have checkpoints, and we won't have a fence up," he said, adding he hopes to get the fence down by Monday or Tuesday morning.

Burciaga also didn't know when the governor would call the special session.

"I don't have a specific date or time yet," he said.

House Republican leaders deemed it "troubling" for the governor to call a special session less than two weeks after the end of a regular 60-day session.

"Special sessions should only be called to deal with an emergency or unique event that requires the Legislature's quick attention," they wrote. "Traditionally, special sessions in New Mexico are called in order to take action on a budget emergency. ... A special session should never be considered as a convenient extension of a regular session whose sole purpose is to continue deliberations on legislation that is neither essential nor related to an economic crisis."

The letter was signed by House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend of Artesia, Minority Whip Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington and Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences. Dow serves as caucus chair.

In their letter, House GOP leaders also expressed concerns about the possibility that other issues, not just adult-use cannabis, would be added to the call. But their "strong disappointment" with the timing of a special session was highlighted in a Thursday news release, which stated: "MLG pushing for 'holy grail' pot bill, while blocking Easter holiday again for second year." It was a reference to government-ordered church shutdowns last year at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Picking a date during Holy Week appears to be a cynical attempt of using Easter to pressure legislators to cave to your political desires if they want to spend the Easter holiday at home with their families. As you are well aware, Easter holds a special and unique significance for many New Mexico families and to use or most sacred holiday as leverage to further your effort to legalized a psychoactive drug is unconscionable," the letter states.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.