February 11, 2020

Bill aimed at preventing domestic terrorism advances

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The state House Judiciary Committee on Monday approved legislation aimed at preventing domestic terrorism in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in August at an El Paso Walmart that targeted Hispanics. The panel also advanced legislation toughening the state’s cyberterrorism law.

Supporters of House Bill 269, which resulted from discussions among New Mexico officials about how to guard the state against such an incident, argued it will offer prosecutors the proper legal tools in a case of domestic terrorism.

The bill, which now advances to the House floor, defines the state crime of terrorism and would make it a second-degree felony to commit an act meant to intimidate or coerce the public, including mass violence in a public place, or an attempt to influence policy or politics using intimidation or coercion.

Under the measure, it also would become a second-degree felony to make or possess a weapon “designed or intended to cause death or serious physical injury by the release, dissemination or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals” or biological or radioactive weapons. Making a “terroristic threat,” which is defined in the bill, would become a second-degree felony, as well.

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of the bill, told the committee New Mexico does not currently define domestic terrorism in state statute. She argued the legislation will help prosecutors build a case against alleged terrorists.

Top security officials in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration told lawmakers in November the state’s domestic terrorism laws were too weak to address modern-day threats from extremist groups and mass shooters.

New Mexico Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran argued at the time the state has “what could be deemed the weakest law in the nation.”

Attorney General Hector Balderas also urged lawmakers to create a new law dealing with domestic and cyberterrorism.

In January, the state Public Regulation Commission’s website was hacked.

House Bill 172 aims to prevent that. 

The bill would make it a third-degree felony to commit a computer crime meant to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or state entity, including a utility provider, or to carry out a “denial of service attack,” which prevents authorized access to computer resources.

The bill now moves to the House floor, where  Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it is likely to see amendments.