By Robert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican
It was one of the top priorities for lawmakers during this year’s 60-day session: a resolution asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment “professionalizing” or “modernizing” the Legislature. With just a few days to go, at least one of two proposals appears dead and the outlook of the other remains questionable. “I’d say it’s dead,” Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, wrote in a text message about House Joint Resolution 2, which would lead to 60-day legislative sessions every year, with voter approval.
Lawmakers now meet for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years, which some say limits how much they can get done. Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of SJR 2, said in an interview this week there were a number of discussions among lawmakers about the measure, and “there are diverse opinions.” Like Rubio, she indicated the resolution, which made its way through two House committees and now awaits a vote on the House floor, is unlikely to go any further this year.
While she would have liked to see the resolution pass, she said, “Maybe we’ll do it next year.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance. A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status. The plan would combine all of the state’s existing college scholarships into one aid pool and steeply increase the available funding. “The real goal is to ensure college affordability, to establish an all-encompassing free college package combining all the scholarships for New Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the possible legislation, told lawmakers on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting Monday. For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some tuition costs for in-state college and university students, including both new high school graduates and adults.
Opponents of a gun control bill that would expand a controversial new law in New Mexico argue the measure would give police too much power — enough to seize their firearms even if they have committed no crime.
About 15 people testified Thursday against House Bill 193, which would amend New Mexico’s Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act by adding law enforcement officers to the list of people who could seek a court order to temporarily take firearms from a person considered a threat. Under current law, police officers can only seek a court order if it is requested by a family member, a school official, an employer or someone who has had a “continuing personal relationship” with a person considered a threat to themselves or others. The new legislation would allow an officer to seek a court order based on his or her own observations. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee allowed public testimony on the proposal but postponed a vote on whether to endorse it until the panel’s next hearing, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Few issues stir emotions as much as gun control.
Gun legislation is a surefire way to rile people on both sides of the aisle. Get ready for a spirited debate, New Mexico, because the first two measures pertaining to firearms in this year’s 60-day legislative session will be considered Tuesday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
“Look, in all of these gun bills, there’s always going to be objections that they go too far,” Rep. Daymon Ely, a Corrales Democrat who is sponsoring one of the measures, said Monday. “When you step back from it, gun owners should be in favor of what I’m doing,” he added. “Nobody should want a gun in the hands of someone who is an imminent threat to themselves or others.” But Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said Democrats tend to craft gun bills that “literally miss the mark.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the extreme risk protection order, or ‘red flag,’ bill into law Tuesday, continuing the shift of gun laws since she was elected. New Mexico is now the 18th state, plus Washington D.C., with such a law on the books. The bill was one of the governor’s legislative priorities for this session and one of the most controversial pieces of legislation. No Republicans in either chamber supported the legislation, and it passed the House by nine votes before narrowly clearing the Senate by just two votes. The bill would allow law enforcement officers to petition a court for temporary removal of firearms from those who they believe are at risk of harming themselves or others.
“New Mexico has balanced individual rights and public safety in a responsible way that will reduce our unacceptable suicide rate and other forms of gun violence,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after signing the bill into law.
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.
In an emotional hearing before hundreds of supporters and detractors, a state Senate panel narrowly passed a high-profile gun bill on Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate guns from people considered dangerous. The Senate Public Affairs committee voted 4-3 along party lines in favor of Senate Bill 5, known as the “Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.” The bill will now be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. If it becomes law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar measures, also known as “red-flag” laws. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is co-sponsoring the legislation and is an attorney, invoked last year’s mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as a reason why the bill should be passed.