Local political junkies who tolerate—and maybe even enjoy—legislative theatrics can expect long floor debates over politically divisive issues including gun laws, hydrogen energy and how to spend a massive budget surplus as the 2023 session proceeds during the next two months. Santa Feans will also have some bragging rights—or moments of shame, depending on political views—as at least two norteño lawmakers plan on carrying legislation almost guaranteed to induce ideological squabbles that stretch into the night.
Santa Fe’s delegation holds high rank in both chambers: Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has long held his leadership role and Rep. Reena Szczepanski, a local freshman Democrat who represents House District 47, was promptly elected House Majority Whip by her caucus last year. That means Szczepanski must ensure cohesiveness when it comes to floor votes, although she jokes she’s “going to teach the whole caucus the whip and nae nae dance.”
Szczepanski tells SFR she’s going to pull from her prior experience as chief of staff for former House Speaker Brian Egolf—a job that required behind-the-scenes negotiations.
“My plan is to, not unlike what I have done in previous roles, go member by member and talk to them and understand their priorities,” she explains.
But Szczepanski has her own priorities, too. She’ll be one of a handful of Democratic representatives sponsoring gun-law changes. Szczepanski says she has “a really targeted, simple approach” in the works that would raise the age to buy an “AR-platform rifle” from 18 to 21—bringing state law in line with the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic handgun.
“What it’s going to do is just build in an extra level between a 19-year-old who’s incredibly upset and wanting to gain access to a very serious weapon, and just make it difficult and put that space so that, that firearm cannot be purchased until that person is 21,” Szczepanski says.
Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, whose district is just north of Szczepanski’s, says she plans to go a step further with an outright ban on “assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.” Romero tells SFR her proposal will not include any sort of grandfather clause or leeway for existing owners but will include a deadline to “basically, lawfully relinquish” firearms that fit the bill.
Romero also wants spearhead cannabis-law changes this year.
There’s never a guarantee that seemingly innocuous bills will slide through, especially since the only real power Republican legislators have this session is the ability to stall the process. There’s also no guarantee that bills make it to the governor’s desk resembling their original form.
But City Different residents should expect to see health care-related bills from the likes of Rep. Christine Chandler, whose district bleeds into La Cienega, and Sen. Liz Stefanics, who represents an area that spans from Pecos in the north to Lincoln County to the south They are both Democrats.
Chandler, who chairs the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, recently told constituents at a town hall meeting she plans on pushing a minimum wage increase. At a separate constituent presentation, Stefanics, who heads the Senate Conservation Committee, said she will sponsor a raft of environment-related bills.
Expect, also, a drug harm reduction proposal from Democratic Rep. Tara Lujan, who represents a sliver of the Southside. And Rep. Matthew McQueen, who serves the Galisteo and Lamy areas and chairs the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee, will likely sponsor some environment bills as well as legislation aimed at making the state’s capital outlay process more transparent. Just don’t expect him to jump on board the governor’s hydrogen train.
Meanwhile, City of Santa Fe officials have their eyes on some of the cash bonanza, too.
Local governments employ a small army of lobbyists to push specific projects and policies, and that includes higher-ups in Santa Fe. They’re asking state lawmakers for $10 million to improve infrastructure at the Midtown Campus and for another $2 million to remodel the Fogelson Library there so it can be turned into a new central library for the city.
The city also wants millions of dollars to improve SWAN Park, build a fire station and construct four multipurpose artificial turf fields for soccer as well as lacrosse at the Municipal Recreation Complex. City councilors are also seeking cash to fund a pickleball complex at Fort Marcy and for irrigation improvements to preserve turf and save water at the MRC, along with pedestrian and bike safety improvements on some roads.
Santa Fe County commissioners have called on lawmakers to boost funding for affordable housing, put a Green Amendment on the ballot and staff up the state Tourism Department.
SFR Staff Writer Andrew Oxford contributed to this story.