Common Cause Poll Indicates Broad Public Support for Longer Sessions and Paid Legislators: Proposals in HJR 2 & 8

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Proposals for two constitutional amendments before the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Monday Feb. 6 will modernize the legislature by creating longer sessions (HJR 2) with no limits on subject matter, and an independent compensation commission to set salaries for legislators (HJR 8).

New Mexico is the only state with an unpaid legislature. Its session is the 3rd shortest in the country. The “volunteer “nature of New Mexico’s legislature was set up by the constitution in 1912, as was the number of days per session –30 in even numbered years and 60 in odd numbered years.  Any change in the length and scope of the session or providing a salary requires a constitutional amendment.

“The time has come to enact some commonsense reforms to modify our 1912-era legislative structure and enter the modern era,” said Mario Jimenez, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “The public is behind it, and the reforms are long overdue.”

An October 2022 survey of 812 likely voters taken by Research and Polling for Common Cause, showed that 64% of respondents support paying legislators (37% strongly support + 27% somewhat support) and 70% support longer sessions (46% strongly support + 24% somewhat support)

Support for these measures cut across party and regional lines.

“In previous polls that we have taken there has always been overwhelming support for longer sessions, but this year, we saw a marked increase in support for a paid legislature,” said Jimenez.

The idea of a volunteer legislature, while admirable, he said, is impractical, and has led to a body of older individuals who can afford to serve, leaving out a broad swath of New Mexicans who are not retired or rich.

HJR 2, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Figueroa (D-Bernalillo), allows voters to decide if sessions should be extended from 30 to 60 days in even-numbered years, and include all topics, not just budgetary or revenue items or items that the Governor puts on the agenda or “call.” It also calls for a 5-day mid-session recess where legislators could contact their constituents and study bills more thoroughly.

HJR 8, sponsored by Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-Dona Ana), will ask voters to approve the creation of a bi-partisan independent citizens commission on salaries to set pay levels for legislators who now receive only per diem and mileage.

“Longer sessions will give hard-pressed legislators time to focus on complex legislation and vet proposals more carefully,” said Jimenez. “And paying legislators is in the interest of all New Mexicans who want more constituent service throughout the year. Paying legislators will also result in fewer conflicts of interest (real or perceived) for legislators who now hold other jobs or run businesses.”

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.