FRI: Red-Flag Gun Bill Heads To New Mexico Governor For Signature, + More

Feb 14, 2020

Red-Flag Gun Bill Heads To New Mexico Governor For Signature - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The Democrat-led New Mexico Legislature approved a red-flag gun law Thursday with a final vote of the state House, virtually ensuring adoption of new procedures for courts to order the surrender of firearms from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others.

The House approved the bill on a 39-31 vote with Republicans and seven Democrats in opposition, sending the bill to a supportive Democratic governor.

As they cast votes, Republican legislators held aloft paperback copies of the Constitution in protest.

The bill would allow law enforcement officers to petition a state district court to order the temporary surrender of firearms by a gun holder who "poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others."

Complaints also could be filed indirectly by sworn affidavits from relatives, employers or school administrators.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the proposal that gained momentum after the August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart store in nearby El Paso, Texas. She says new tools are needed for law enforcement to prevent gun violence and better secure the safety of schools.

A similar proposal last year stalled in the state Senate. This year deliberations began in the Senate, which endorsed the bill on a 22-20 vote last week.

Democratic Rep. Antonio Maestas of Albuquerque urged House colleagues to support the legislation while recounting an unsuccessful attempt to coax a gun away from a cousin by marriage, who later died by suicide.

Republicans made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to amend the bill. Any changes would have triggered the need for a new Senate vote of concurrence.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have some sort of red flag law, with most enacting them starting in 2018.

Dozens of rural New Mexico sheriffs have denounced the red-flag bill as unconstitutional and several have warned that it would put deputies in unnecessary danger.

Law enforcement officers can be held liable in instances where they do not enforce the proposed statute. That provision was added by bill co-sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes after sheriffs threatened to ignore any approved red-flag law.

New Mexico Sheriff Picked For US Group On Mental Illness – Associated Press

The sheriff in New Mexico's most populous county has been chosen by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to lead a mental health working group that is part of a federal effort to explore issues affecting the ability of law enforcement to reduce crime.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales told the Albuquerque Journal on Thursday that as chairman of the panel, he will work with criminal justice experts on a report on how law enforcement should work with people experiencing mental health problems.

Gonzales said his deputies are addressing the issue locally with mobile crisis teams and crisis intervention training.

While advocates for the mentally ill say they have seen progress in how Albuquerque Police Department officers address this population, they have yet to see the same changes from the sheriff's office.

A lawsuit filed by Elisha Lucero’s family alleges her July 2019 death was caused partly by the sheriff office's failure to authorize a SWAT team or mobile crisis team to respond after Lucero's uncle and cousin reported she was acting strange and experiencing psychosis.

An autopsy report found that Lucero, who was nearly naked and armed with a knife, was shot at least 21 times.

President Donald Trump created the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice through an executive order last fall.

Republican House Candidate Vows To Fight Disqualification – Associated Press

A Republican candidate for Congress in northern New Mexico was disqualified from the race after failing to use a legally prescribed petition form to collect voter signatures.

The state secretary of state's office disqualified Anise Golden-Morper, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

“The Secretary of State was only able to count signatures submitted on the required legally prescribed form and Ms. Golden-Morper did not collect the 463 signatures required to qualify,” the office said in a statement.

The proper forms have been available on the office website since last October, officials said.

Golden-Morper's campaign accused Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver of politicizing her office.

“Anise is being targeted by a hyper-partisan witch hunt similar to what just happened to President Trump in Washington D.C. by a weaponized Secretary of State,” the campaign said. "We plan on taking this to the courts and fighting tooth and nail against this flagrant abuse of power.”

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 in the district, officials said. The district seat has long been held by Democrats.

The seat is currently held by Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Tom Udall, who is retiring.

 New Mexico Funds Could Help Revamp Management Of Rio Grande – Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are considering setting aside $20 million that could be used as seed money as water managers in the arid state scramble to find ways to reduce groundwater pumping that is at the center of a legal battle.

The ongoing fight over the Rio Grande has pitted Texas against New Mexico before the U.S. Supreme Court. New Mexico's top water engineer says the funding could pay for farmers to fallow their land in some years as well as storage projects aimed at recharging the aquifer connected to the river.

Right now, the system is out of balance, and Texas is arguing that New Mexico should be forced to reduce its pumping by as much as 60%. That would be equivalent to more than half of the water supplied annually to residents in Albuquerque.

About 85% of the water being pumped along the lower Rio Grande goes to irrigate the nation's most productive pecan orchards, chile and onion fields and other crops.

Virgin Galactic Spaceship Arrives At New Home In New Mexico - By John Antczak And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Virgin Galactic's spaceship VSS Unity has arrived at its new home in New Mexico after being ferried from Southern California by a special carrier aircraft. 

The long-awaited move began Thursday at Mojave Air & Space Port in the Mojave Desert. 

The flight took the spaceship to Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, where it will undergo final testing in preparation for commercial operations that will carry tourists on hops into space. 

The move to New Mexico marks a significant milestone toward commercial flights, which the company has said it anticipates will begin this year. 

Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant of the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America — the world's first facility designed and built specifically for launching commercial passengers and payloads into suborbital space.

Measure To Revamp Utility Regulation In New Mexico Advances Associated Press

A proposal that calls for reshaping the administrative structure of a powerful regulatory panel that oversees New Mexico utilities and other businesses is headed to the House floor for consideration.

The measure has the support of business groups and key Democratic legislative leaders who say revamping the Public Regulation Commission will help insulate the staff from political considerations and reduce turnover.

The move to reorganize the commission comes as the state begins to implement a 2019 landmark energy law that involves the closure of a major coal-fired power plant and the economic pains that will come along with that as well as new renewable energy mandates that call for investor-owned utilities to be carbon-free by 2045.

Under the proposal, administration of the panel would be moved under the state Regulation and Licensing Department and commissioners would select their chief of staff from a list of qualified candidates provided by the governor.

Democratic Reps. Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe and Nathan Small of Las Cruces are sponsoring the bill. They say it's time to modernize the commission.

If approved by the House, the measure would need to be considered by the Senate before the 30-day legislative session ends Feb. 20.

Former Lujan Grisham Intern Arrested In GOP Vandalism Case – Associated Press

A former congressional intern for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham when she was a U.S. congresswoman was arrested in connection with vandalism at the headquarters of the Republican Party of New Mexico.

Cameron Chase McCall was detained and charged with criminal damage to property after authorities compared video footage of the vandalism with a photo of him on his Facebook page, court documents said.

The footage showed a person on Saturday morning spray-paint “still traitors” on the building.

McCall's attorney, Alexandra W. Jones, said her client didn't do what he's accused of doing.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki confirmed that McCall was a congressional intern for Lujan Grisham when she was a member of the U.S. House. Stelnicki condemned the vandalism.

The Republican Party of New Mexico declined to comment. Officials estimate the damage at $2,500 to $4,000.

In March 2019, the state GOP headquarters was hit by a vandal who spray-painted the word “traitors” on the building. In July 2017, two activists from a radical left group spray-painted an “A” on the headquarter’s sign.

Companies Settle Lawsuit Alleging Sex Harassment Of WorkersAssociated Press

Albuquerque companies doing business under the name of Select Staffing will pay $199,500 to five female employees to settle a lawsuit that alleged the women were subjected to sexual harassment while working at the Albuquerque Police Department's public-records unit.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday that a federal judge on Wednesday approved the settlement of the EEOC's suit filed against Real Time Staffing Services Inc., Employment Solutions Management Inc. and Employbridge LLC.

The EEOC lawsuit alleged the women were subjected to “pervasive and unwelcome conduct" sexual comments and unwelcome touching.

The companies don't acknowledge liability or management wrongdoing.

Four of the five women in the Select Staffing case previously received a $490,000 settlement paid by the city.

Governor Appoints New Mexico Attorney To District JudgeAssociated Press

A city attorney in New Mexico was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the judicial district court in Chaves County, the governor said.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham named Roswell attorney Jared Kallunki, 44, to fill the Division VII seat in the 5th Judicial District, the Roswell Daily Record reported Wednesday.

“It feels good, but I know there are a lot of people who need to feel confident in justice, and so there is a heavy responsibility,” Kallunki said.

The seat was previously held by Kea Riggs who resigned in December after being sworn in as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

It is unclear when Kallunki will be sworn in.

Kallunki must run in November to retain his new position for a full six-year term, court authorities said. The position pays an annual salary of $133,757, authorities said.

Kallunki moved to Roswell in 2008 and has held multiple legal and city positions. He most recently worked for the public defender's office since 2017.

Hemp Business Plans Operations In Southeastern New Mexico – Associated Press

A cheese factory that has been vacant for more than a decade will be transformed into the state's newest hemp operation under plans that will get a boost from state and local economic development funding.

Big Dog Industries plans to invest $15 million in the Lovington property and its seed-to-retail business over the next several years.

The project will receive $750,000 in state economic development assistance that will be paid out as the company meets its hiring benchmarks over the next five years. The city of Lovington, in southeast New Mexico near the Texas border, also has pledged $250,000.

State Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes said this marks the third hemp business to receive funding under the Local Economic Development Act since the start of 2019.

Big Dog Industries plans to hire 125 employees as it angles to become a national player in the market for hemp oils, lotions, edibles, clothing, chocolates and bath products.

Part of the appeal of the Lovington plant was that it has 10,000 square feet of refrigeration that can be used to store processed hemp at 60 degrees or cooler to keep it from deteriorating.

Big Dog Industries CEO Brian Meyer said his company will start making repairs and improvements to the building but some operations can begin immediately.

GOP Candidate Shoots Red Flag To Oppose New Mexico Bill - Associated Press

A Republican U.S. House candidate in southern New Mexico has released an ad with her shooting a "red flag" to protest a state gun control proposal. 

Claire Chase on Thursday unveiled the online video where she challenges "Santa Fe liberals" to come and take her firearm. She then shoots a red flag with a rifle to show her displeasure with the proposed red-flag gun law. 

A bill heading to the governor's desk would allow law enforcement to petition a court for the temporary surrender of guns by people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others. 

Conservatives, some sheriffs and gun-rights advocates say the measure is unconstitutional. 

Chase is facing former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-Las Cruces. The seat represents southern New Mexico along the border.

In 2018, Torres Small also ran a television ad with her shooting a rifle. She defeated Herrell in the general election by less than 3,000 votes to flip the historically Republican-leaning seat.

New Mexico Museum Tries To Find Name For Robotic Tyrannosaur - Associated Press

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science is trying to find a name for the robotic version of the Bisti Beast tyrannosaur.

The museum in Albuquerque has collected suggestions for names from visitors for months. 

They have narrowed down the choices to the top five most popular suggestions and want the public's help choosing the final name. 

Museum officials say the most popular suggested names include Juniper, Bailey, Bella, Betty and Bonita. 

They plan to announce a name for the Bisti Beast on March 14 when the museum opens its next dinosaur exhibit.

The real Bisti Beast was found in the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico and its skull is on display in the museum's "Back to Bones" exhibit. 

The robotic beast roars every half hour for visitors in the museum's lobby.