FRI: New Mexico Senate Approves Red-Flag Gun Bill, + More

Feb 7, 2020

New Mexico Senate Endorses Red-Flag Gun Bill – Associated Press

The New Mexico state Senate on Friday endorsed a red-flag gun bill that has been prompted by concerns about a mass shooting last year in El Paso, Texas, and suicide prevention efforts.

The bill won Senate approval on a 22-20 vote with Republicans and a several Democrats voting against it. The proposal moves to the House, which last year approved a similar measure that languished.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged legislators in the Democratic-led Legislature to enact a law to provide new tools to law enforcement to prevent gun violence.

The bill as currently written would allow law enforcement officers to petition a state district court to order the temporary surrender of firearms. Complaints about gun owners by relatives or school administrators would be presented to law enforcement officials and not directly to the court.

Rural sheriffs oppose the legislation, arguing that the bill would infringe on constitutional guarantees and that officers can already intervene in the event of a mental health crisis and detain people for their own safety or a danger to others.

Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton, a legislative liaison to the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, said Friday that the bill still "gives the appearance of a gun grab" by authorities and was unlikely to improve public safety.

Republican Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle of Portales cautioned against the legislation.

"We cannot trample on constitutions in order to address the emotions of the moment," he said.

At least 17 states have enacted provisions for emergency risk protection orders that allows the temporarily seizure of firearms.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes overhauled his proposal this week after meeting with law enforcement officials including state police. Those revisions removed a provision that would have allowed family member to directly petition courts for the removal of firearms when a relative appears to pose a threat to themselves or others.

Cervantes, a Las Cruces-based attorney, has invoked the August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso — highlighting allegations that the shooter, who has been charged with hate crimes, targeted Mexicans. New Mexico has the highest ratio of Latino residents of any state, estimated at well over 40% by the U.S. Census Bureau.

He gave an emotional plea for support of the Senate floor.

"I can't know this bill will prevent a school shooting," he said. "What I do know is that If we do nothing but offer our thoughts and prayers ever time we see a mass killing ... that I won't be able to look at myself in the mirror knowing that I didn't do everything to prevent that."

A provision was added Friday allowing school principals or college administrators to request that police intervene to remove firearms. Cervantes invoked the 1966 mass shooting from a tower at the University of Texas that killed 14 as justification.

Another amendment raised the legal standard of proof needed for a one-year order for gun removal, from probable cause to a preponderance of evidence.

The election of Lujan Grisham in 2018 opened the door to new restrictions on gun possession. Lawmakers last year expanded background check requirements to cover nearly all private gun sales and enacted a law that prohibits firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.

Report: New Mexico refinery Emitting High Levels of Carcinogenic Chemical – the Associated Press

An oil refinery in southeast New Mexico is one of 10 facilities in the country releasing high levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, a report said.

The HollyFrontier Navajo oil refinery in Artesia is emitting benzene levels four times the Environmental Protection Agency's action level, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.

Refineries with chemical levels above the federal action level are not violating federal law, but must take action to reduce the pollution, officials said.

"These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities," said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy organization for environmental regulations.

More than 3,000 people live within a mile of the refinery, officials said.

"Businesses are located directly across the road from the fenceline, and Roselawn Elementary School is located just 0.2 miles directly west of the highest reading monitor," the report said.

Benzene is found in crude oil and used to manufacture plastics and pesticides, officials said. Prolonged exposure to the chemical can damage bone marrow, decrease red blood cells and lead to cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.


New Mexico Ethics Commission Sees No Complaints In Its First Month – Associated Press

New Mexico's new Ethics Commission reported Friday it had received no complaints so far about ethical lapses and potential corruption involving public employees, contractors, lobbyists, and political candidates.

Agency Executive Director Jeremy Farris told commissioners the lack of complaints was probably a result of the agency's website still being new and because commissioners only have jurisdiction over cases after July 1, 2019.

Requirements that complaints get notarized also may be discouraging people from coming forward, Farris said.

The state Ethics Commission opened in January to field complaints regarding campaign finances, government contracting, gifts from lobbyists, and more — at a time when there are spending surges on public infrastructure and efforts to influencing elections in New Mexico.

No complaints arrived by the end of Thursday for the seven-member commission appointed by legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Commissioner Garrey Carruthers said he hoped lawmakers would later modify the ethics law to drop the notarization requirements. "Not everyone hangs out with notaries," Carruthers said.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the commission in 2018 in the wake of a series of high profile corruption scandals including jail time for former Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran and former state Sen. Phil Griego.

Duran was convicted on embezzlement charges for using campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction, while a jury found Griego guilty of charges including fraud, bribery, and embezzlement after using his position to profit from the sale of a state-owned building. Former Taxation Department Secretary Demesia Padilla is fighting a criminal charge of engaging in an official act for personal gain.

The panel has received one request for advice on ethics matters — another core responsibility — and forwarded the response back to the person seeking information. The person wanted to know if a state employee was violating the state's Gift Act if the employee was also receiving a monthly salary from a political campaign committee or organization.

In an advisory opinion, the commission said the limited information provided did not seem to violate the state's Gift Act.

New Mexico Corrections Department Settles Fair Pay Lawsuit – The Associated Press

The New Mexico Department of Corrections has paid its recently named cabinet secretary $195,000 to settle a civil lawsuit alleging she was paid less than a male counterpart because she is a woman.

Alisha Tafoya Lucero filed the lawsuit in 2013 claiming she was paid $29 an hour as the deputy warden at a state penitentiary while a male colleague in a similar job was paid $39 an hour, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported  Thursday.

This is one of three lawsuits over violations of the Fair Pay for Women Act that the department of Corrections settled, officials said.

The settlements come after the Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that the law can apply to government employees, department officials said.

The state fought the case for six years, arguing state agencies were exempt from the act, which Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law in 2013, officials said.

Lucero did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

There was "no connection whatsoever" between Lucero being named secretary and the decision to settle her case, governor's office spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said in an email Thursday.

New Mexico Chile Farmers See More Foreign Competition – Associated Press

The New Mexico Chile Association wants local chile pepper farmers to become state-certified amid more competition from foreign growers.

Association president Glen Duggins told KOAT-TV this week that farmers are seeing more foreign imports from as far as China or India, and that more of the imported chili peppers are sold under the New Mexico name.

Meanwhile, Duggins says state farmers are moving to other more profitable crops.

State officials are pressuring local farmers to get their peppers the “Certified New Mexico Chile” label by the New Mexico Chile Association. Only five large farms out of about 20 across the state have that certification.


President Nixon And The Sacred Lake: Bill Preserves History - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

It was 1970, the U.S. president was Richard Nixon and members of a small Native American community in northern New Mexico traveled to Washington to press their case for reclaiming a sacred alpine lake from federal control.

The story of the return of Blue Lake and 75 square miles of surrounding national forest land to the people of Taos Pueblo — finalized with Nixon's signature in December 1970 — is being retold 50 years later, as tribal leaders and state legislators look for ways to preserve documentation and memories of the landmark victory for indigenous rights.

A legislative proposal would devote $350,000 from the state general fund to help preserve photographs, transcripts and news articles and develop exhibits and educational lessons about the campaign to reclaim Blue Lake, a site prized as an integral part of Indian pueblo culture and ceremonial traditions. 

The lake is perched in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains more than 2 miles above sea level at the headwaters of the Upper Rio Grande.

Couple Facing Charges In Kangaroo, Mountain Lion Possession – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico couple is facing charges for illegally importing exotic animals, including a mountain lion and kangaroo, for film productions.

Kip and Chelsey Lewis are facing multiple charges of unlawful importation of a nondomestic live animal after New Mexico Department of Game and Fish agents raided their home in December 2018. They were charged last year. 

According to court documents, Chelsey Lewis altered documents for the animals, and Kip Lewis lied about the locations of the animals. Both are listed as owners of the A to Z Film Animals company.

Agents found in the couple's possession a capuchin monkey, a coyote, a prairie dog, a skunk, an American alligator, a raccoon, and a kangaroo, a criminal complaint said.

The Albuquerque Journal reports records show A to Z’s animals have appeared in productions including AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” Netflix’s “Godless”, and USA Network’s “Briarpatch.” According to the Journal, PETA is asking USA Network to discontinue its use of wild animals. 

The attorney for the couple did not immediately return a message.

Scammers Steal $447,000 From County In New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

County officials in New Mexico have changed some of their internal procedures after acknowledging that Bernalillo County lost about $447,000 as a result of an online scam. 

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that scammers targeted one of the 1,472 registered vendors listed on the county website's transparency portal. 

Officials say the county expects to maintain transparency by keeping contracts visible, but a list of vendor names has been removed from the site. 

Officials say the procedural changes require vendors to contact the county directly for changes to their profiles. 

According to officials, the Risk Management Department is currently working with the county’s insurance carrier to recoup the loss.

New Mexico Chile Pepper Farmers See More Foreign Competition - KOAT-TV, Associated Press

The New Mexico Chile Association wants local chile pepper farmers to become state-certified amid more competition from foreign growers.

Association president Glen Duggins told KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week farmers are seeing more foreign imports from as far as China or India.

He says some of the imported chile peppers are sold under the New Mexico name.

Meanwhile, Duggins says state farmers are moving to other more profitable crops.

State officials are pressuring local farmers to get their peppers the "Certified New Mexico Chile" label by the New Mexico Chile Association.

There are only five large farms who are certified out of about 20 across New Mexico, according to the association.

Farms that make less than $10,000 per year do not have to pay to be certified. Farmers that make more do have to pay and their fee depends on how much they are producing.