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Lawmakers are trying to find shelter in July, in the middle of the peak season, with the Baldwin trial looming

May 12 – State Representative. Randall Pettigrew jumped on the phone the same day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she would call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session in July.

Pettigrew, a Republican who lives in Lovington in far southeastern New Mexico — about 300 miles (480 kilometers) from the state capital — immediately tried to find shelter.

“The Drury was booked and La Fonda didn’t have anything for all the nights I wanted because I wanted to come the day before,” he said, adding that the unknown length of the session made booking a hotel room even more challenging. The governor expects the session, which starts July 18, to last two to four days.

Pettigrew, who wanted a room within walking distance of the Capitol, made a reservation for five nights at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza on Sandoval Street. The price tag for the stay was hefty.

“The total for the 17th through the 22nd was $1,837 plus tax, and then another $150 for parking and resort fees and stuff like that, because it’s the Hilton,” he said.

It’s also Santa Fe, at the height of the busy tourist season.

The dates of the special session fall squarely between two major summer art markets that draw thousands of visitors and could overlap what is expected to be the final days of a high-profile involuntary manslaughter case against actor and film producer Alec Baldwin.

The 2021 trial of the fatal Rust shooting, set south of Santa Fe, will begin on July 9 and run through July 19. Some predict there will be a ‘media circus’ in the city.

Finding a place to stay for the session could be more stressful and expensive than usual for New Mexico lawmakers who don’t live within driving distance of the Roundhouse.

“Unless we can find a place with availability, rates will probably be about 50% higher,” said Jeff Mahan, executive director of the Santa Fe Lodgers Association. “When there is more demand, they charge more money for the limited supply.”

The average rate in Santa Fe last July was $220, up from $145 for January and February. Citywide occupancy was around 75% in July 2023, down from around 55% at the start of the year.

“The occupancy rate is 50% higher and the rates are 50% higher (in July), so they might be able to fill some rooms, and it could be a boon for Cerrillos Road because I think the downtown buildings tend to have a higher occupancy rate have,” said Mahan.

Rep. Jared Hembree, R-Roswell, said the annual meeting of the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law will also begin on the same day as the Santa Fe session.

“That will bring about 800 to 1,000 attorneys and their families to Santa Fe for the conference,” he said. “So there’s a lot going on.”

Hembree, who is working with the foundation on the annual meeting, said he had already made hotel reservations for the July meeting in February and warned his fellow Republicans not to wait.

“As soon as I heard about the special session, I told my caucus members to rush to hotels because the foundation had blocks at 12 or 14 different hotels, which would make it very difficult,” he said. said.

Rep. Andrea ReebClovis, R., said hotels near the Roundhouse quoted her rates of $400 to $480 per night when she first started calling.

“I’m just trying to look around and see if I can find someone to stay with or something,” she said. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do, and I know we’re all in this together.”

Although lawmakers receive $231 per day for workdays between March and September, some say that rate is not enough to cover the cost of a hotel room near the Capitol, let alone lodging and meals.

“The true cost of serving in the New Mexico Legislature is much, much higher for those of us who do not live in Northern New Mexico or Albuquerque,” ​​said Rep. Micaela Lara CadenaD-Mesilla.

Lara Cadena said she hasn’t booked a room yet because she doesn’t know how long the session will last.

“We can hear the insider politics of, ‘Oh, it shouldn’t last longer than this number of days,’” she said. “Well, what if it turns out it’s shorter and I paid $500 or $600 extra for a room I didn’t need — with a per diem that didn’t (cover the cost)?”

Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, said he has also not secured shelter.

“I might stay in Albuquerque if prices in Santa Fe are too high,” he wrote in a text message.

When asked if she worries about waiting too long and not being able to find a place to stay, Lara Cadena says she may be “living out of poverty.” (her) car,” as she often does.

“I have a bunch of shoes in the backseat and a bunch of different outfits, and depending on the time of day and the day, I’ll be a little stressed and not have the comfort and convenience of living in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. ” she said. Some people have a different disposable income than I do, so the per diem is not a problem for them, and they can stay in a nice and stable place. I don’t have those resources.”

Lara Cadena said figuring out where to stay during the session can be a daily decision. The Cottonwood Court Motel on Cerrillos Road has proven affordable in the past, she added.

“Sometimes I get a room there for about fifty euros a night,” she said. “They are small, have wood paneling and have an old-fashioned key, a real key that you put in a door. There is nothing special about furniture that is probably second-hand and from the 70s, 80s and 90s. But those people are nice and the rooms are clean.”

The city’s tourism director, Randy Randall, characterized mid-July as “definitely a very busy time” in Santa Fe.

“I think it will be difficult for lawmakers to find places to stay within their per diem allocations,” he said. “Many legislators use short-term rentals for their stay, usually during (a regular) session because it is a longer stay and they get kitchen facilities. I’m not sure how they’ll handle it. But from a tourism perspective, we always like anything that increases demand.”

Randall said demand is driving prices up.

“Most of our hotels have revenue management plans in place where rates will increase slightly as demand increases,” he said.

A five-night reservation at the Hilton for July 17-22, the same time frame Pettigrew booked a room at the hotel last month, was listed at $2,321 on Wednesday.

Airbnb and Vrbo both showed numerous available short-term rentals at the time, ranging from $66 per night for a room in a house to several hundred dollars per night — plus hundreds of dollars in fees. For example, the total cost of a one-bedroom house, which was $155 per night, was $1,235 for the five nights.

Mahan advised lawmakers, or anyone for that matter, to “book now” if they want to stay in Santa Fe during that time.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, you know, where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said. “But it will cost everyone more, and it will take more time to find places to sleep, and those places to sleep may be further away.”

Randall wondered whether the governor would consider changing the start of the special session, now scheduled for Thursday. He said it’s easier and cheaper to find accommodation earlier in the week.

“For example, if it started on Monday afternoon… it would certainly be easier to find accommodation and probably a bit cheaper,” he said.

Michael Coleman, spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said the governor is not considering changing the date of the special session.

“The Governor chose July 18 to start the special session after consulting with legislative leaders of both parties and taking into account a number of factors, including waiting for New Mexico’s primary season to end,” he wrote in an email.

Reeb and other lawmakers have questioned the need for a special session.

Reeb noted that the governor’s legislative agenda fell flat among both Democrats and Republicans during a meeting Monday of the interim legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.

The special session is focused on public safety, and the governor has introduced a bill on civil and criminal jurisdiction, as well as a proposal on traffic safety and an increase in the penalty for being a felon in possession of a firearm – proposals some of which lawmakers claim they won. Not much is being done to address crime in New Mexico.

“There was not an enthusiastic response from either side of the aisle,” Reeb said. “…I don’t even think we’re going to accomplish anything, and then all the taxpayer money that’s going to be spent on it and then all our own personal money. I just think people go there and are a little bit – you know, um – bitter.”

Republican Whip Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho expressed similar doubts.

“This is, quite frankly, the strangest special session this governor has called yet, and she’s called quite a few,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for her to think that we can come for three or four days and accomplish something that we couldn’t accomplish in the 30-day session.”

In any case, accommodation will not be a problem for Brandt, because he lives within driving distance.

“I just refuse to pay ridiculous prices for a hotel when I live an hour away,” he said. “But most of my colleagues don’t have the privilege of being able to drive an hour and stay in their own bed.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.