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Former State Rep. Rick Miera, left, discusses New Mexicos legislative process during a Thursday workshop sponsored the Peace and Justice Studies Program. The event focused around bills currently being voted on in the ongoing New Mexico legislative session.
Former State Rep. Rick Miera, left, discusses New Mexicos legislative process during a Thursday workshop sponsored the Peace and Justice Studies Program. The event focused around bills currently being voted on in the ongoing New Mexico legislative session.

Workshop shines light on legislative efforts

“Send a letter, but don’t send it typewritten. The most important and effective letters you can send are handwritten,” he said.

The workshop, hosted by the UNM Peace and Justice Studies Program in collaboration with ActionNM, a local community action network, was held to educate those in attendance about the legislative process, as well as how they can get involved.

Miera, who served in the House for 23 years, led the workshop along with community legislative trainer Kim Zamarin. She said because of the way the state’s Legislature is structured, their relationship with their constituents is mutually beneficial.

“The impact of not having full-time legislators, and those legislators not having full-time staff, really makes a difference in terms of the ability to listen to community members’ issues and concerns and act on it,” Zamarin said.

Although the current legislative session ends on March 21, Miera said the period of several months between sessions is essential for those who want to voice their opinions to their legislators.

While the session is where bills are presented and voted on, their origins actually stretch back to the summer months. That is when legislators begin thinking about the bills they might want to propose, and more often than not it is a result of the feedback they get from the public, Miera said.

“That’s why you want to get involved in the very, very beginning. Because we’re listening to your comments,” he said

Miera also said one thing that makes New Mexico’s legislature unique is how accessible its members are.

It is normal, Miera said, for him to take two hours just to pick up a few groceries, because he takes the time to talk to his constituents who want to advocate on certain issues.

“The chances of that happening in any place other than New Mexico is probably pretty rare,” Miera said. “If you’re in California, if you’re in New York, they say ‘you can’t talk to your legislator.’”

Additionally, New Mexico is the only state where its legislature does not get a salary. Miera said he believes it actually strengthens the integrity of its members.

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“If we got paid, I would have left a long time ago,” he said. “That’s what I like about New Mexico. We’re not running for jobs, we’re running for positions, to be able to support you all.”

Desi Brown, a student advisor and instructor in the Peace and Justice Studies program, said that the real work for issue advocates doesn’t have anything to do when the legislation is in session, but rather outside of it.

“It’s easy to advocate for an issue. It’s learning the process of how to actually bring about the change that you want that just takes practice, takes repetition, takes working with other groups,” he said.

Juliana Bilowich, community liaison for the Peace and Justice Studies program, said that many students don’t believe they are able to fill that role of advocate, simply because they may lack money or status.

“The truth is, it’s everyday people like us who make the difference in bills and initiatives in the legislature,” Bilowich said. “So not only do we have a place, it’s a necessary place. We have to be there.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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