February 10, 2020

‘Red flag’ bill only gets one committee assignment in House

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Open carry rally in Richmond, VA in 2010. Flickr cc

This year’s high-profile firearms legislation will be heard by a House panel Tuesday, but it won’t be the Judiciary Committee.

The controversial Senate Bill 5, which allows law enforcement to petition a court to take away a person’s firearms if they are found to pose a threat, will instead be heard by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

It’s a decision that had House Republicans sharply criticizing the Democratic majority Monday.

“I think they’re just trying to force it through,” said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. “Any time you have a bill that’s so charged and has been amended five or six times, it deserves to be looked at by the Judiciary Committee in the opposing house.”

The Senate passed the legislation by a narrow margin Friday, and on Monday House Speaker Brian Egolf assigned it to be heard in the public affairs committee before it would proceed to a floor vote.

The bill, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, would allow someone’s firearms to be confiscated for 10 days, an order that could be extended to one year. The legislation was harshly denounced by Republican senators and opposed by four Democrats in the Senate before it passed 22-20 on Friday.

Rep. Daymon Ely, a co-sponsor of the bill who is the vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Monday his committee was backed up with other bills. He added that the House debated a similar measure at length last year, so the time it will likely get this year on the House side would be enough.

“We’ll still have four or five hours of debate,” said Ely, D-Corrales, calculating the total time the bill could get in the committee and on the floor.

Democratic senators proposed and approved six amendments to the bill on the floor, including one amendment that raised the standard needed for a judge to issue a one-year “extreme risk” order from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence.

Another change would allow a judge to decide how much time a respondent has to voluntarily turn in his or her firearms, instead of mandating, as a previous version of the bill did, that respondents would have 48 hours to do so.

The House GOP said in a statement that the Judiciary Committee should be able to consider “the legal ramifications of the heavily amended bill.”

Yet Ely said the changes would be easy for legislators to understand on the floor.

“I don’t think it requires lawyers to explain them,” he said.

The committee hearing at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday will be similar to the Senate Public Affairs Committee’s prior hearing of the same bill. It will be held on the floor of the House with the public in the gallery. Proponents and opponents will each have 30 minutes to express their views, and weapons will not be allowed in the gallery.

House Judiciary Committee analysts will be present at the hearing to help write an analysis for members of the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, according to a spokesman for the House Democrats.