New Mexico lawmakers look for solutions to hobbled economy

SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico lawmakers are confronting daunting challenges as they began a 60-day legislative session this week amid an unrelenting coronavirus pandemic and concerns of violence at a Statehouse guarded by troops and encircled by fencing, barricades and mobile security cameras.

Proposals aimed at reviving the economy and rebooting classroom learning are at the top of the agenda for lawmakers in the Democratic-led Legislature. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is pushing for a budget deal that would increase state spending on pandemic relief, education and health care.

Democrats also have drafted lightning-rod initiatives that would allow broad marijuana sales, shore up abortion rights and reform police oversight.

“While we debate passionately in this chamber, we have created a culture of respect — no chaos,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said as the session opened. “We can do this together.”

House Republican leaders said their priority will be proposals that allow students to return to classrooms immediately by providing greater autonomy to school boards, teachers and families.

Most schools are providing remote learning only, with some small in-person lessons for younger students and special education students. Most classroom teaching was suspended in March, and education officials this week said schools can restart mixed schedules that include in-person lessons after an extended holiday pause.

“We’ve got to get our kids back in school, we’ve got to find a way,” House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said. “Children are retreating into isolation, into their electronic devices, instead of friendship. We have desperation setting in among those children.”

The House came into session on Tuesday with calls in English and Spanish of “present on the floor” and “presente.” Most Democrats tuned in via video conference from their offices, and most Republicans were on the House floor.

In the Senate, legislators in masks exchanged elbow bumps and sat down between Plexiglas barriers meant to reduce the spread of the virus. The rotunda and hallways of the Legislature — ordinarily buzzing with lobbyists,…