Health and safety measures to expect at the Roundhouse in 2023

By: - January 13, 2023 4:30 am
Early childhood educators and advocates hold a rally at the New Mexico Capitol Rotunda after a presentation to lawmakers asking for more money to support and expand access to child care or pre-k programs on Dec. 15, 2022.

The New Mexico Capitol will be open to the public, and to exhibits and performances. Tours will also be allowed. Those activities were prohibited during the 2022 session. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

During the 2023 legislative session, it’s looking like there will be no requirement for vaccination against COVID-19 to enter the Roundhouse, nor any requirement to wear masks.

Rules specific to the two legislative chambers around COVID safety from previous sessions will not carry over into this year’s 60-day session beginning Jan. 17, according to the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

The Roundhouse will be open to the public and exhibits, performance, and tours will be allowed, said Camille Ward, spokesperson for House Democrats. Those activities were prohibited in the last session, she said.

In the first week of January, 2,700 people died from COVID in the U.S. As many as 23 million are suffering from Long COVID, with 45% of COVID cases – including in children – leading to lingering symptoms.

Chris Nordstrum, spokesperson for the Senate Majority Office, said any COVID-related rules in that chamber will have to be newly adopted by lawmakers very early on, likely during the first day.

Those rules were still being drafted and discussed as of Thursday, he said. The same is true for the House of Representatives, Ward said.

Staff and some lawmakers will be wearing masks, said Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service.

“I would encourage people to wear masks, but I understand that some do not like to wear them for any number of reasons,” he said.

Consideration for others will need to be weighed by anyone walking into the Roundhouse.

One might want to wear a mask when walking into the office of someone who is already wearing one, Burciaga said.

Committee meetings will be public, meet in person, and also webcast. 

Committee chairs will have discretion over procedures for remote participation, Nordstrum said.

“The intent will be to allow any senator who tests positive to participate remotely while they isolate per CDC guidelines,” he said.

Burciaga said the Roundhouse’s HVAC system is “fairly sophisticated,” with ultraviolet light that kills bacteria and viruses in the air coming in from the outside. He did not know whether the HVAC system filters the air, or the minimum efficiency reporting value of any filters that might be used.

Weapons banned

After a string of shootings at politicians’ homes and offices in Albuquerque over the last month, contact info for legislators — home phone numbers and work addresses — were scrubbed from the Roundhouse’s website. But additional security measures during the coming session that starts on Tuesday aren’t in play. 

As things stand, lawmakers in November 2021 banned the public and themselves from carrying firearms into the Roundhouse, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. All entrances have also had metal detectors since then, Burciaga said.

For any joint meeting of the House and Senate, staff will scan people for weapons, he said. Like every session, the New Mexico State Police will be there, too.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.