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WED: New Mexico lawmakers have proposed 7 new gun laws, + More

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Legislators in New Mexico have proposed 7 new gun laws - Associated Press

Legislators in New Mexico have proposed seven gun laws in a wide-ranging package of proposals.

Members of a House committee want to establish a two-week waiting period for firearm purchases plus prohibit the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles and handguns in the state.

The proposed ban would go into effect in March 2024 with some exemptions for people who already have the prohibited firearms.

Meanwhile, a proposal to ban AR-15-style rifles in New Mexico began moving Tuesday through the Legislature.

Also advancing in the legislative session were proposals to ban firearms at polling places, raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and prohibit the sale of hollow-point bullets.

The proposals passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and head next to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially their final step before reaching the full chamber.

House approval would send the bills to the state Senate.

Lawmakers have until March 18 to grant final passage that would send a bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Democratic legislators are pursuing aggressive new gun-control measures intended to address mass shootings and other crime.

But Republican lawmakers and other opponents said the restrictions would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter crime.

New Mexico's firearm fatality rate is among the nation's highest with 562 state residents dying in 2021 due to gun-related injuries, according to state Department of Health data.

Former Hummingbird Music Camp director linked to three rapes - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

The former director of Hummingbird Music Camp in Jemez Springs has been linked to three decades-old rape cases in other states through DNA testing.

The Albuquerque Journal reports investigators with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office linked Elliott Higgins, who died in 2014, to two rapes in Alabama using his relatives’ genetic tests.

Capt. Jack Kennedy says those rapes occurred in 1991 and 2001 while the International Horn Competition that Higgins founded was being held at the University of Alabama, which he attended.

DNA testing also identified Higgins as the rapist in a 2004 cold case in Colorado Springs, according to Kennedy.

The New Mexico youth camp director has not yet been linked with any other sexual assaults in the other communities that hosted the horn competition or at Hummingbird Music Camp.

In the 1991 case, an Alabama news outlet reports a 19-year-old university student was held at knife point before being sexually assaulted. In the 2004 Colorado case, Kennedy says the rapist, now believed to be Higgins, wielded a handgun.

Walmart closing southeast Albuquerque store – Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM

A Walmart Supercenter store that serves as the main shopping source for a large part of southeast Albuquerque is closing.

The Albuquerque Journal reports company officials said the store at 301 San Mateo Blvd. SE will close on March 10 after a review showed it was not performing as well as they would like.

Spokesperson Lauren Willis told the Journal the 287 employees who work at the location are eligible for transfers to nearby Walmart stores. The Journal reports the chain has 53 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations around New Mexico.

When asked if crime was a factor in the closure, Willis told the Journal the Albuquerque Police Department had been a great partner combating crime issues.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC in December that the chain was seeing a big uptick in theft and that could lead to higher prices and store closures.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports at least two bills in the current legislative session seek to impose tougher penalties for organized retail crime and repeat shoplifters. A recent multi-agency sting operation in Albuquerque resulted in 16 arrests against shoplifters.

Black Fire legislation introduced that would send disaster funds to southern NM - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Dealing with massive wildfire damage many can’t afford to repair, Black Fire victims in southern New Mexico could finally see some recovery money if a new legislative proposal gets passed.

Sens. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) and Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City) introduced a Black Fire Recovery bill on Friday, Jan. 3, that would set aside $3 million from the state’s General Fund immediately. Locals could apply for the money, which would cover repair work until late 2025. Anything leftover would go back to the state.

In the several months since the 2022 fire and flooding, public officials, acequia stewards and private landowners have been struggling to get funding to repair costly damage. Diamond said this bill could pull down financial assistance for all of those people.

Correa Hemphill said both local counties and acequias associations would be able to request money. Some of those dollars could even be returned to the fund down the line. Grant, Sierra and Hidalgo Counties are eligible for state reimbursements on recovery work, but it’s been difficult for them to afford all the up-front costs.

There’s a workaround for the state’s anti-donation clause — a hangup for private landowners — baked into the proposal. Local soil and water conservation districts could also use the funding for repairs on private land, Diamond said. That would bypass the clause, which Correa Hemphill said is still making it difficult to get New Mexico dollars directly to people in crisis situations, despite the constitutional amendment that voters approved in November.

The two lawmakers that represent many of the affected southern districts didn’t originally plan to introduce Black Fire-specific legislation. Correa Hemphill said they’re both fairly new senators dealing with unprecedented crises in their districts, and the state has money now to fund this with a $3.6 billion surplus budget

“This is a great opportunity for us to really be able to make a meaningful difference,” she said. “It’ll have a generational impact in New Mexico.”

Diamond said after she learned that the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire bill would only cover that disaster, she realized they needed a stand-alone measure to get communities’ resources. She said counties have already identified damaged areas and necessary repair projects, like fixing roads, fences, water systems and other infrastructure.

“All of our counties have expressed that they’re ready to go as soon as the money is available,” Diamond said.

How quickly that money gets out depends on how fast the bill moves through the Legislature and then how soon the state goes through applications, though the bill doesn’t yet directly lay out that process.

Rio Grande settlement proposal is in federal judge’s hands - By Danielle Prokop,Source New Mexico

Aproposed deal that Texas and New Mexico say will bring an end to the states’ years-long,multi-million dollar dispute over Rio Grande water had its day in court Monday, facing objections from two irrigation districts and the federal government.

And now, everyone waits.

The next step lies in the hands of a federal judge. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Melloy is overseeing the case as it winds its way through the United States Supreme Court. Melloy heard arguments from all sides during a seven-hour long hearing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He was unsure when the ruling on the proposed settlement would come down, telling attorneys “It’s not going to be next week, or probably even next month.”

Colorado, Texas and New Mexico jointly presented their draft agreement to support the deal. Attorneys argued that any remaining issues between New Mexico, the federal government and irrigation districts, are “intrastate” and should be resolved in lower courts.

“We think that the consent decree was a very significant accomplishment,” said Jeff Wechsler, lead attorney for New Mexico. “It will set the division of water between the states going forward, it will help provide clarity and stability.”

The prospective decree requires the Supreme Court’s approval to go into effect. The states asked Melloy to recommend the high court adopt the prospective plan.

Attorneys said the agreement establishes that New Mexico would receive 57% of the Rio Grande water while Texas would receive 43%, and that groundwater pumping would be factored into those formulas, which are based off of a period of drought from 1951-1978.

The water share for Texas would be measured on a point at the state line located at the El Paso Gage. Chad Wallace, the attorney for Colorado, said this would ensure that the water is received by Texas after New Mexico delivers the water to Elephant Butte Reservoir, about 100 miles upstream.

Finally, it allows flexible conditions for New Mexico and Texas to handle disputes on under- or over- deliveries of the proposed water split. If New Mexico fails to meet delivery requirements for three consecutive years, the draft agreement requires a New Mexico irrigation district to transfer water to Texas.

Because that transfer process would require using federally managed dams, canals and ditches — which are also owned by local irrigation districts — this was a heated point of contention at the hearing.

Melloy said the crux of the case will determine if the United States has the right to block the proposal, because the feds operate pathways that move the water from irrigation districts in Southern New Mexico and into far West Texas.

Lee Leininger, the lead attorney for the United States, said the federal government’s concerns cannot be overruled, and that the deal imposes new burdens.

He said the draft agreement is “vague, indefinite and incomplete” for how New Mexico would curb pumping below Elephant Butte.

“The states should not be allowed to settle this case on the backs of the irrigation districts,” Leininger said.

Phil King, an engineering consultant for Elephant Butte Irrigation District, wrote insworn testimony that the irrigation districts may not survive years of transfers under the new agreement

“The raiding of (Elephant Butte Irrigation District) surface water allocation by New Mexico, combined with reduced surface water due to climate change and drought, could cause (Elephant Butte) to fail,” King wrote.

Melloy asked Leininger several times if the United State’s main concern was that the federal government did not trust the New Mexico plan to reduce groundwater pumping.

“You want New Mexico to do more to guarantee that they will do something with whether it’s pumping or some other remedies within the state of New Mexico to address what you believe are problems,” Melloy noticed Leninger nodding and asked if that meant he agreed.

The attorney agreed, responding “Ultimately, that’s the resolution.”

In his rebuttal, Wechsler told the court New Mexico would take steps to curb unchecked groundwater pumping in the Lower Rio Grande. He said the New Mexico Legislature is working to hire additional state water experts for the region, and fund programs to reduce water use.

“There’s a very significant appropriation being sought for things like fallowing (croplands) and depletion reduction programs, those things are already afoot,” Wechsler said.

Groups who are not parties in the litigation but are involved in the settlement discussions and hold significant water rights, are split in supporting and opposing the prospective deal.

Attorneys representing the City of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, a rural utility providing water to Sunland Park and several farmers groups urged Melloy to approve the deal.

The federal government should “stop stalling” the state process for determining water rights, and raise any concerns there, said Tessa Davidson, who represented both Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association and the New Mexico Pecan Growers. She spoke in support of the proposed agreement.

Maria O’Brien, the attorney for El Paso County Water Improvement District, questioned the legality of the draft in her statements, requesting the judge throw it out.

“It’s illegal on its face because it rewrites a compact without congressional approval,” she said.

In a departure from other attorney’s presentations, Sarah Barncastle, the attorney for Elephant Butte Irrigation District recited a three-minute long poem, a “eulogy” for the Rio Grande Project, she said.

“Now the states’ big idea, you see, is to take water from (Elephant Butte) to make Texas quite happy, but it’s really quite crappy,” her poem read.

She concluded by imploring Melloy to send all of the parties back to the negotiation table.

“Luckily, this isn’t a real funeral and you don’t have to go down in history as the judge who had the chance to save the Rio Grande Project and didn’t,” Barncastle said. “Don’t go for the easy solution or the quick fix, order us back to settlement.”

Despite the requests from both irrigation districts, the judge declined to order settlement talks. Melloy only encouraged the official mediator to reach out to the fractured parties, and suggested they talk informally as he contemplates a decision.

“I would think it would be in everybody’s best interest to present a united front to the Supreme Court on a proposed settlement,” Melloy said.

Bill banning AR-15 style weapons, purchase waiting period takes next steps at Capitol - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal

A new proposal to ban AR-15 style weapons in New Mexico has taken its first leap in the state Capitol –– as lawmakers follow in the steps of a national movement aiming to curb gun violence in the United States.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, members of a House committee advanced legislation to establish a two-week waiting period for firearm purchases and prohibit the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles and handguns.

If passed, the ban would go into effect in March of 2024.

On both sides of the political aisle, opponents and supporters crowded the room where lawmakers would debate and vote on the legislation––some claiming the restrictions would interfere with the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and fail to tackle crime.

The bills head next to the House Judiciary Committee, before reaching the full chamber.

Then, House approval would send the bills to the Senate.

GOP lawmakers propose repealing NM film incentives - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A Republican-sponsored bill set for its first legislative hearing Wednesday would eliminate New Mexico’s tax incentives for the film industry.

The Albuquerque Journal reports House Bill 237 would repeal the film rebates that include a 25%-35% tax credit for productions, and 5% to film in smaller communities outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.

Republican Rep. Larry Scott questions whether the rebates are a good deal for taxpayers. He told the Journal that while the industry brought in over $850 million dollars to the state last year, taxpayers gave it back $155 million. He added that, with only 2,600 film jobs generated, the math deserves a conversation.

The New Mexico Film Office opposes the legislation, arguing the incentives are crucial to New Mexico maintaining a thriving industry, and that the state needs to remain competitive with surrounding states that have established their own programs.

A recent study backed that up, showing that 92% of productions wouldn’t have filmed in or even considered New Mexico without the tax breaks it offers.

The study concluded that the state gains $8 dollars for every $1 it invests in the industry.

Alec Baldwin wants prosecutor in on-set death case dropped - Associated Press

Defense attorneys for actor Alec Baldwin are seeking to disqualify the special prosecutor in the case against him stemming from the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a New Mexico film set.

In a motion filed Tuesday in Santa Fe-based district court, Baldwin's legal team said Andrea Reeb's position as a state lawmaker prohibits her under state law from holding any authority in a judicial capacity.

Reeb is "exercising either the executive power or the judicial power, and her continued service as a special prosecutor is unconstitutional," Baldwin's team argued in the motion.

Reeb, a Republican, was elected to the state House of Representatives in November and started her term last month.

The office of Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies dismissed the idea that Reeb would be disqualified. In a statement, the office characterized the motion as nothing but a legal diversion.

"Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys can use whatever tactics they want to distract from the fact that Halyna Hutchins died because of gross negligence and a reckless disregard for safety on the 'Rust' film set," the office wrote in the statement.

Baldwin and film-set weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed are scheduled to make their first court appearance by video conference in late February. Both have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Hutchins died shortly after being wounded during rehearsals at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza.

A manslaughter charge can be brought if a defendant killed while doing something lawful but dangerous and was acting negligently or without caution.

Pretrial detention change could cost New Mexico $15M a year - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A proposed state Senate bill that calls for people accused of certain violent crimes to remain jailed without bond until trial could cost New Mexico up to $15.3 million annually, according to a legislative analysis obtained by a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican said the fiscal impact report by the Legislative Finance Committee also cites concerns about whether the measure might violate the state's constitution.

The newspaper said the proposed bill is backed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez and Rep. Meredith Dixon, both Albuquerque Democrats.

Gubernatorial spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in an email that Lujan Grisham "has been clear about prioritizing keeping violent repeat offenders off New Mexico streets by establishing a rebuttable presumption."

The proposed bill is scheduled for its first legislative hearing Wednesday before the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee.

The measure would establish a presumption that no conditions of release would protect the community from defendants charged with crimes such as first-degree murder, first-degree child abuse, sexual exploitation of a child and child trafficking, the New Mexican reported.

While the state's current pretrial detention system requires prosecutors to provide evidence proving to a New Mexican district judge a defendant poses too great a danger to be released on any conditions, the bill states "it shall be presumed" prosecutors have satisfied their burden of proof through probable cause to charge the person with one of several high-level felony counts, according to the newspaper.

The defendant would have an opportunity to rebut the presumption.

Advocates told the New Mexican that the goal of the measure is to prevent defendants from committing additional violent crimes while they await their trials.

States push to enshrine protections for tribal children - By Amy Beth Hanson Associated Press

Leo Thompson received plenty of love, food and shelter from the non-Native American family who raised them, but missed out on any exposure to their Indigenous culture, heritage, ancestors and community.

"The only time they acknowledged my heritage was when they'd make passive comments like, 'Oh, you know, you've always liked that Native American stuff,'" said Thompson, who lives in Missoula, Montana. "That stuff that they so casually referred to is not casual at all. It's the practices of my ancestors. It's the very same culture that's healed my soul. Reconnecting with my heritage as an adult has been a long and arduous journey."

Montana is one of a handful U.S. states — along with Wyoming, Utah and North Dakota — considering legislation this year to keep more Native American children from enduring similar experiences by including provisions of the U.S. Indian Child Welfare Act in state law.

The states are driven by concerns that Supreme Court challenges have put the federal law in jeopardy. During a hearing last year, the justices seemed likely to leave in place most of the law that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving Native children. The law also requires child welfare agencies to provide services to help Native families move toward reunification.

Ten other states have similar laws in place, including New Mexico, whose law took effect this year, and they too could be affected, depending on how the justices rule. Most federally recognized tribes want the act upheld, fearing that an adverse ruling could dismantle a whole range of federal laws based on their political relationships with the U.S. government.

Thompson, who uses she/they pronouns, shared their story during a recent legislative hearing on a bill sponsored by Montana Democratic Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy.

The federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed by Congress in 1978 in response to the alarming rate at which Native American and Alaskan Native children were taken from their homes by public and private agencies. From 1887-1969, Native children were placed in boarding schools that used abusive practices to assimilate them into white society. Many were adopted by non-Native families, often depriving them of their tribal and cultural heritage.

The law has helped change that, but there is still work to do.

In Montana, nearly 11% of all children are Indigenous but they made up 37% of those in foster care in 2021, according to the National Indian Child Welfare Association. About 9% of North Dakota children are Indigenous, but account for 44% of the children in foster care, the association said.

"I have witnessed and experienced the benefits of keeping a child within the care of their family where he stays connected, rooted and knows who he is and where he comes from," Sharen Kickingwoman, with the ACLU of Montana. testified. "We know from our experiences and research that affirming Indigenous identity, especially for youth, is some of the strongest things you can do to enhance resilience amidst adverse childhood experiences."

Wyoming's effort is furthest along, having passed the Senate 20-11. In Utah, tribes and statewide officials support the proposal, yet lawmakers held it in a legislative committee during the final week of January amid questions about whether it was needed yet and despite a request by Navajo Nation leaders to pass it.

Bills in Montana and North Dakota have had committee hearings but no votes, while a South Dakota bill was rejected this week.

One aspect of the case awaiting a Supreme Court ruling argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act amounts to federal overreach, and that such protections should be enacted in state law. Another argument is the act provides race-based protections that violate the equal protection guarantee in the Constitution. Native Americans argue the measure is a government-to-government agreement between the U.S. and sovereign tribal nations that, like the U.S., determine citizenship in ways that aren't based on race.

No one testified against the proposed policy during a Montana hearing, while supporters testified about the importance of family relationships within tribes.

Kickingwoman, a member of the Gros Ventre and Blackfeet nations, said Native societies are built around kinship. Kickingwoman said she's been honored to provide guardianship to many of her relatives, including her cousin's son, who she said by mainstream society's standards would be considered a distant relative," but to her is a son.

"A lot of our extended families and friends are close kin in relation to us," she said. "What may be on paper seen as a second or third cousin really is a brother or sister, maybe a niece or a nephew."

Keegan Modrano, a policy director with the ACLU of Montana who is Muscogee Creek, also was raised by a non-Native family, and was therefore deprived of being raised with their cultural practices, language or people.

"I can not fully ever completely express the incompleteness I feel living my life," Modrano told the committee.

"My younger self wants nothing more than a Native father figure in my life. My younger self wants nothing more than a Native mother, for cousins and kin, aunties and uncles," they said. "I cannot rest and I will fight every day so that no other Indian child feels that loss or experiences child removal or the foster care system."