Screening awaits NM Capitol visitors

·2 min read

Jan. 17—SANTA FE — Visitors to the Roundhouse for opening day will face metal detectors and health screening as lawmakers begin their first regular session since the building reopened last year to the public.

Firearms and deadly weapons are prohibited, though small pocket knives are fine.

Masks are required, and visitors should be prepared to show identification and up-to-date COVID-19 vaccinations, unless they have an approved exemption and a negative PCR test within the last 48 hours.

A booster dose is necessary for those who are eligible.

Legislative leaders went over the rules Monday as they prepared to begin a 30-day session Tuesday on budget and tax legislation, in addition to items added to the agenda by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The booster requirement touched off some argument in a meeting of the Legislative Council, a bicameral panel of leaders from both chambers.

Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, suggested the booster requirement went too far.

About 76% of adults in New Mexico have completed their initial vaccine series, while just 39% have received a booster.

"I know we're a fan in this state of moving the goalposts," Brandt said.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the booster.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said data from clinical trials showed the booster shot increased the immune response of participants, which should improve protection against COVID-19. Antibody levels naturally drop over time, and the booster brings them back up.

Both chambers of the Legislature plan to hold in-person floor sessions this year, though the rules aren't yet final. Lawmakers who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to be able to participate online.

In the House, committee hearings — where public testimony is accepted — will be conducted largely online though the Zoom video program. But committee rooms will be open for people who want to testify in person through a video link.

The Senate is expected to have in-person committee hearings, but with some online components, too.

The Capitol was closed to in-person visitors last year before vaccines were widely available. But visitors were allowed — with screening — during a special session last month.

The visitor policy is published on the front page of nmlegis.gov.