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Visiting New Mexico’s Capitol? Bring vaccine proof, not guns

A choir group from Eastern New Mexico University performs at the Capitol Rotunda in Santa Fe on Nov. 17. New COVID-19 restrictions will ban unvaccinated members of the public from the building during the upcoming legislative session. Separately, Democratic lawmakers have recently banned guns from the building citing security concerns. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press file)

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s state legislative complex will be open to the public during upcoming Legislative sessions, but only for those who provide proof of vaccination.

New rules will also prohibit performances, advocacy booths and tours at the state Capitol starting Dec. 6, when the Legislature meets for redistricting – setting new political boundaries based on 2020 census population counts.

The rules will also be in place during the regular legislative session that starts in January, limiting festivities in the Roundhouse – the state Capitol building that includes the Legislature and the governor’s office – but allowing the public to attend Legislative hearings for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“Given the high number of COVID-19 cases across the state and the strain this continues to put on state resources, it is incumbent on us to protect everyone in the Capitol complex while conducting the state’s business,” said Legislative Council Service service director Raúl Burciaga, who oversees safety and operations at the state Capitol.

The vaccination requirement does not apply to lawmakers.

The Roundhouse has been open to the public for months, with a masking requirement but no vaccine requirement. It’s popular for visitors thanks to four floors of local art and its round shape, unique among U.S. state capitols.

It was completely closed to the public during the last legislative session because of coronavirus concerns and fenced off with armed guards after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Legislative debates were broadcast online and public comment was given via Zoom.

The internet broadcasts will continue indefinitely.

Earlier this month, Democratic lawmakers banned weapons including firearms at the Capitol for the first time in its century-long history.

State Republican lawmakers have condemned the gun and in person restrictions, including Tuesday’s announcement.

“Last year, they put up a fence blockade and called the National Guard. This year, they’ve decided to ask for your medical records and take away your second amendment rights,” said state House Republican Leader Jim Townsend of Artesi, in southeastern New Mexico.

Before the pandemic, legislative sessions served as a festive platform for musical performances and dancing, and lobbying booths. That included advocacy groups handing out pens and massage stations where legislators and the members of the public could get a free backrub, all of which are prohibited under the new rules.