House minority leader takes issue with special process for medical cannabis bill

An unconventional process for a somewhat controversial medical cannabis bill provoked the ire of the House Republican floor leader Sunday afternoon. 

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, told acting Speaker of the House Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, he felt like House Democrats have been changing rules for the majority’s benefit. 

The bill in question, SB 139, would change state law to only allow New Mexico residents to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The problem is, the bill is also directly tied to a state Court of Appeals case where Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, represents the appellees. In attempt to eliminate the perception of a conflict of interest, Egolf said in a letter last week, he would remove himself from the legislative process for that bill. Egolf’s letter asked leaders from the House majority and minority to make the decision about what sort of House committee assignments the Senate bill would get. 

Ely, who Egolf assigned as Speaker Pro Tempore for the assignment process of the bill, told the body on Sunday afternoon that Townsend declined to take part in the process. 

“There was a process proposed that the minority leader and majority leader would try to reach an amicable arrangement as to what committee or committees Senate Bill 139 would be referred to,” Ely said. “The minority leader, as is his right, has decided not to recommend that, so I as the presiding officer will make the referral.”

Townsend took issue with how Ely characterized the letter.

‘Red flag’ bill heading to the governor’s desk

After weeks of heated testimony, the last legislative debate on a contentious gun-control bill played out with little drama Thursday night on the House floor. But there was a moment late in the proceedings when Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas choked up with emotion. The Albuquerque Democrat described his wife’s 41-year-old cousin, Celena Alarid, sticking a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger. “She went to heaven sooner rather than later,” he said. 

But much of the three-hour debate over Senate Bill 5 played out like a piece of lackluster theater — one in which everyone involved knew their lines, everyone was tired of saying them and the final scene was very easy to predict. The House voted 39-31 Thursday night to approve the so-called “red-flag” bill, which will allow law enforcement to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others.

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

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.

Red flag bill passes Senate

The New Mexico Senate approved high-profile gun legislation in a narrow vote Friday, likely clearing the way for the bill to become law. The chamber voted 22-20 to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be able to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if they are found to pose a threat to themselves or others. The measure now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass and make New Mexico the 18th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to have a similar so called red flag law on the books. A comparable bill passed the House in last year’s session but didn’t make it to the Senate floor.

Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”

Effort to bring transparency to House tabling votes advances

A Republican lawmaker who often challenges legislation and decisions by Democrats said he was somewhat happy when an amended version of his resolution calling for more transparency in how lawmakers’ votes are recorded won bipartisan support Thursday. 

House Resolution 1, introduced by Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, would require the New Mexico House of Representatives to publish a record of legislators who make or vote on a motion to table a bill. 

In most cases, a motion to table a bill means it quietly dies in committee while a legislative session plays out, without ever getting further consideration. While those tabling votes are recorded in committee hearings, they do not go into the official House of Representatives record and cannot be found on the legislative website. 

“The people of New Mexico expect ethical transparency,” Townsend told the committee members. “This is just one more step … in making our processes much more transparent to the public.” Though all but one member of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee voted to endorse HR 1, the action came with a price: An amendment would exclude two committees from having to participate in the process.

Legislator proposes temporary weapon confiscation from those who pose a danger to the public

Earlier this month, Seattle police confiscated a cache of firearms from alleged neo-Nazi leader Kaleb James Cole after a county court named him in an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Police argued Cole posed a threat to the public and were therefore able to take his guns under a relatively new type of law—often referred to as a red flag law. 

Cole served as an example Wednesday afternoon in Santa Fe as the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard a pitch from Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, about enacting a similar law in New Mexico. Although, it’s unlikely Ely and other supporters will be using the term “red flag.”     

“I’ve been trained not to use that term, but it is the same thing,” Ely said, adding that mental health professionals prefer not to use the term. 

Ely said he used Cole as an example because it shows “The value of an extreme risk protection order.”

Ely’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act would allow police to temporarily confiscate weapons from individuals a court has deemed a potential danger. The Albuquerque lawmaker said the proposal is similar to a bill he cosponsored during the 2019 legislative session. 

“This is a bill that allows law enforcement or household members to petition a court, and with evidence, convince a court that a person is an imminent threat,” he told the committee. 

Ely’s proposal was met with mostly support by committee members, but the sole Republican in attendance had some issues with the standards the courts and police would use to determine if someone is a threat. 

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he could understand legal intervention for someone making “a credible threat on the internet,” but was concerned about the burden of proof in Ely’s proposal. 

“I think you need to use the highest standard if you’re going to deny a person a constitutional right,” Rehm said. 

But Ely argued a person’s right to own a gun would not be violated. 

“We’re not taking guns away forever, we’re not locking people up, we’re trying to save lives,” Ely said. 

Under the proposal, if a person is deemed by a court to be a danger and their guns are taken away, they would have the opportunity to argue their case in a court hearing. If no further action is taken after the initial confiscation, Ely said, the guns would be returned.

Senate committee deadlocks on ethics panel

New Mexicans voted in a landslide for an ethics commission to police those in state government. But a Senate committee can’t seem to agree on how it should work. The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked Monday in a round of votes on two different bills that would set up the commission. The logjam comes amid questions about how much the public should know about the panel’s work and how much authority it should have to subpoena documents or witnesses. This disagreement is not a surprise given that lawmakers have been left to decide how to police themselves.

House OKs ethics bill with election ‘blackout’

Election season might seem like the perfect time for a government ethics watchdog to be on high alert. But in setting up a new statewide ethics commission, lawmakers are proposing to curtail its work during the height of election years — or even for the entirety of the campaign season. Some legislators contend the commission needs a sort of blackout period to avoid political adversaries from filing complaints solely for the purpose of derailing a candidate’s campaign. Advocates have been hesitant to give too much ground on the issue, though, for fear of defanging the proposed panel. Three out of four New Mexico voters in the last election backed a constitutional amendment creating a statewide ethics commission.

Committee advances ethics bill, but questions remain

The House Judiciary Committee on Saturday voted 8-0 to move forward a bill establishing procedures for the state Ethics Commission, even though some lawmakers believe the measure still needs work. House Bill 4 would install seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbying and financial disclosures. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who is sponsoring the bill, told committee members the bill needs tweaking. But, he said, “I really want to get this thing moving.” Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, agreed.