On March 16, it was reported that the New Mexico legislature is in discussions with Governor Michell Lujan Grisham to convene a “special session” to deal with a $50 million dollar capital spending outlay and rising gas prices. On March 14, it was reported that a mentally ill man went on a shooting rampage and was killed by police only after killing one and injuring 5, including 3 police officers.
This blog article is discusses how both matters can and should be addressed in a Special Session of the New Mexico Legislature.
APD SHOOT OUT AND KILLINGS WITH PERSON IN MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
On Monday, March 14, a woman was killed, a man and a woman were injured and 3 police officers were also injured in what the Albuquerque Police Department called an “active shooter situation” in an affluent Glenwood foothill gated community at Montgomery east of Tramway NE. The incident sparked a massive law enforcement response and ended with 3 officers sustaining minor gunshot wounds. Multiple officers shot the armed suspect and killed him.
Around 2:17 p.m. officers were called to Montgomery east of Tramway NE, near a police substation, because a woman in a vehicle had been shot. As officers were rendering aid to her they heard gunshots to the east and several officers “made their way up the street” to where they found a man had been shot in the leg. Officers searching the neighborhood found a woman dead inside a vehicle and APD believe all 3 citizens were shot by the same person.
Officers found a man they believed to be the suspect and he had entered a house and then come back out and an altercation occurred that led to two officers getting superficial gunshot wounds. One was grazed above the eye and the other was struck with pellets below the vest. Two handguns were found with the suspect.
APD has identified 52-year-old John Dawson Hunter as the man they say shot and killed one woman and injured five other people, including 3 officers. The woman killed was identified as Alicia Hall, 31. Neighbors said she lived in the area. Hall was driving in her car on Montgomery east of Tramway when she was shot. Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, said Hunter also shot a man and a teenage girl before officers responded to the scene, found him, and shot and killed him during a confrontation.
APD Detectives say the 3 APD officers suffered minor injuries during the gunfire that resulted in Hunter’s death. APD the injuries may have resulted from gunshots that hit a cinderblock wall that broke up and sent debris in their direction. APD Detectives believe Hunter was “suffering some sort of mental crisis when he started shooting randomly at people in the area of his home.” Hunter lived in the 13000 block of Montgomery Blvd. NE.
Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about the shootings:
“[This is an] example of a tragedy suffered from gun violence in our community. “… this is yet another example of what happens when there is a gun in the wrong hands, and it leads to violence. … This is yet another clarion call in our city. We have to have every level of government focused on reducing gun violence.”
EXTRAORDINARY SESSION APPEARS AVERTED WITH SPECIAL SESSION TALK
On March 9, Governor Michell Lujan Grisham announced that she had vetoed Senate Bill 48, also known as the “Junior Bill” enacted by the 2022 New Mexico 30-day legislative session that ended on February 17. The bill would have authorized $25.2 million in one-time spending and another $25.2 million in ongoing spending. The bill was crafted by the individual legislators and was in addition to the $8.5 billion budget and then$827.7 capital outlay bills. Senate Bill 48, gave each lawmaker a certain amount of money to allocate as they chose. Members of the House got $360,000 each and senators had $600,000. It passed by unanimous votes .
The money would have gone to a wide-ranging set of programs and priorities picked by lawmakers. Among the proposed items were law enforcement equipment, efforts to help homeless animals, student speech and debate clubs, medical equipment, meals on wheels for homebound residents and public safety programs and funding for food bank services in the East Mountains. Lawmakers have not taken up a supplemental spending bill in over 10 years before 2019, when an oil and gas boom resulted in surpluses. Legislators are contemplating the calling an “extraordinary legislative’’ session to override the Governor’s veto of the $50 Million Junior Bill.
The Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 48 resulted in a very public clash between lawmakers and the Governor. There was a growing number of New Mexico legislators who expressed support for calling themselves into “extraordinary session” to allow them to override Governor Lujan Grisham’s veto of a $50 million spending bill. Convening such a session requires support from three-fifths of each chamber of the Legislature. An “extraordinary session” would represent a political rebuke of Lujan Grisham by a legislature her party has solid majorities in in an election year where she is seeking a second term.
On Tuesday, March 15, Democratic lawmakers met behind closed doors for a Caucus meeting to debate to call “special or extraordinary session” and to provide financial relief to drivers squeezed by high gasoline prices and options for restoring $50 million in spending vetoed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. A Party Caucus is a confidential forum that allows a group of legislators, Democrats or Republicans to discuss strategy or other topics among themselves.
During the March 15 Democratic Caucus meeting, legislators discussed the possibility of an April 5 special session called by the governor that would focus on tax rebates and a revised version of the $50 Million spending bill which she vetoed. No final decision was made during caucus meetings. An extraordinary session would be open to any topic. A special session would be limited to subjects authorized by the governor.
After the caucus meeting, Albuquerque area Democrat Senate President Pro Term Mimi Stewart expressed optimism about reaching an agreement with Lujan Grisham on plans for a special session. She said lawmakers are still evaluating how to address the governor’s objections to the spending bill. If no agreement is reached on a special session, still have the option of calling themselves into “extraordinary” session without the governor’s approval which is provided in the New Mexico constitutions.
Among the fuel options under consideration is “suspending” the state’s 17 cents a gallon tax on gas for now or issuing tax rebates to New Mexicans to reflect the higher cost of living. Other lawmakers say lifting the gas tax might affect the state’s debt obligations, among other potential consequences, leading to increased talk of rebates as an alternative. Lawmakers of both parties have said they support taking action of some kind to help New Mexicans hit by higher fuel costs.
The link to quoted news source is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYIS
Soon after the 2022 thirty-day New Mexico legislative session, it became abundantly clear that both the Governor as well as the New Mexico legislature were not at all happy with the final outcome because of the legislation enacted and vetoed. The Governor was given a watered-down crime bill when the legislature gutted “pre-trial” detention and “rebuttable presumption” to hold those accused of violent crime for trial. The legislature became extremely hostile when the Governor vetoed a carefully crafted $50 million spending bill. Complicating matters is that it is an election year where the Governor is seeking a second term, all 70 New Mexico House members are on the ballot, and the general voting public continues to be angry over rising violent crime rates
CALL SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Legislators are discussing the possibility of an April 5 special session called by the governor that would last only two days that would focus on tax rebates and a revised version of the spending package. A special session is strictly limited to subjects authorized by the governor.
An April 5 special session is rushing it and longer than a two-day session is needed. The special session should be called for the first week in May to give sufficient time to work out specific legislation and the session should last at least a week.
Governor Mitchell Lujan Grisham should call a Special Legislative Session and place only 3 items on the agenda:
1. Enactment of a modified $50 Million junior bill that the legislators want
2. Enactment of specific tax rebates or suspension of gas tax
3. Enactment of an “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act” to deal with the ever-increasing violent crime crisis in the state.
Following is a discussion of all 3 agenda items that should be considered:
1. $50 MILLION APPROPRIATION BILL
The Governor should make it clear and in no uncertain terms that she will place on the special session agenda a new $50 million spending bill that the legislators have crafted and want. Part the initial spending package was the fact that the bill contained many projects with enough funding to start the projects but not to complete them. Among the proposed items were law enforcement equipment, efforts to help homeless animals, medical equipment, meals on wheels for homebound residents and public safety programs and funding for food bank services, all projects that the Governor should easily support.
If necessary, additional funding should be added to the funding bill that will ensure completion of the projects. Lawmakers have not taken up a supplemental spending bill in over 10 years before 2019, when an oil and gas boom resulted in surpluses. Oil prices have surged following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sharply expanding revenue in New Mexico making the State the Number 2 oil producer in the United States and there should be more than enough additional revenue to add to the $50 million appropriations to complete the projects.
2. ENACTMENT OF SPECIFIC TAX REBATES OR SUSPENSION OF GAS TAX
Lawmakers of both parties have said they support taking action to help New Mexicans hit by higher fuel costs.
House Republican Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, had this to say:
“The state is certainly rolling in revenue.”
Gallup Democrat Senator George Muñoz succinctly put it this way:
“People need help.”
The Governor should make it clear and in no uncertain terms that she will support and place on a special session agenda tax rebates or some sort of “gas price relief”. There is a downside the gas tax suspension in that eliminating it will not reduce the price of gasoline as much. The gas tax as it stands builds roads and pay of debt and therefore other “gas price relief” should be sough if possible. This should be a no brainer giving the alarming increases in gas prices and the need for economic relief and the fact the state is continuing to see huge increases in revenues from oil and gas production.
The link to quoted news source is here:
3. ENACT “OMNIBUS GUN VIOLENCE AND GUN CONTROL ACT
“Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act” should be enacted in a special session and must include sweeping legislation to deal with gun control, gun violence and violent crime in the state.
ENHANCEMENT CRIMINAL SENTENCINGS
The following increases in enhancements should be enacted:
1.Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a noncapital felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a firearm is brandished 12 years.
2.Create a new category of enhanced sentencing for use of a lethal weapon or deadly weapon other than a firearm where there is blandishment of a deadly weapon, defined as an item or object used to inflict mortal or great bodily harm, in the commission of a noncapital felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years.
3.Enact legislation making it a 4th degree felony punishable up to 18 months in jail for failure to secure a firearm. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container or otherwise make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or other authorized users.
GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION
The New Mexico legislature could enact the following gun control measures:
4. Call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.
5. Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.
6. Require in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.
7. Review additional bail bond reforms and statutorily empower judges with more authority and more discretion to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime convictions.
8. Institute mandatory extended waiting periods to a month for all sales and gun purchases.
9. Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
10. Ban the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
11. Provide more resources and treatment for people with mental illness.
12. Limit gun purchases to one gun per month to reduce trafficking and straw purchases.
KEEPING FIREARMS OUT OF THE HANDS OF CHILDREN
Given the severe increase of murders of children at the hands of children, the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act” needs to include provisions directed at keeping firearms out of the hands of children and holding adults owner of guns responsible for their guns. Provisions that should be considered are as follows:
13. Currently, you must be at least 19 years old to legally possess a handgun in New Mexico and there is no minimum age to possess rifles and shotguns. Expand the age limitation of 19 to rifles and shotguns,
14. Currently, the unlawful possession of a handgun by someone under age 19 is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of from 6 months to one year in jail. It should be classified as an aggravated fourth-degree felony mandating a 2-year minimum sentence.
15. Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones.
16. The case of any juvenile arrested possession of a weapon and charged by law enforcement are to be referred the District Attorney for automatic prosecution.
17. Make it a felony, in certain circumstances, if a person recklessly stores a firearm and a minor gains access to it to threaten or harm someone. If a firearm is accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a crime resulting in great bodily harm or death, the person responsible for storing the firearm could be charged with an aggravated fourth-degree felony, carrying a 24 month prison sentence.
If a firearm were accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a lesser crime, the person responsible for keeping or storing the firearm could have been charged with a 4th degree felony punishable by up to a 18 months in jail.
18. Mandate public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers. Legislative funding needs to be provided to accomplish the requirement.
MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING CRITICAL COMPONANT
The March 13 shoot out and killing of John Dawson Hunter emphases the need that funding must be considered a critical part of any “Omnibus Control Gun Control And Violence Act”. To that end, the legislature needs to fund and strengthen the states decimated behavioral health system, incentivize new provider services and build peer support programs and increasing addiction treatment services. This would include funding to expand court ordered treatment programs and increase funding and capacity for specialty courts.
Until aggressive action is taken to not only change the criminal sentencing laws but to enforce and prosecute violations of the laws, the city and the state will see very little reduction in the states violent crime rates and an increase number of body bags and funerals.
Many elected officials, law enforcement and the public quickly expressed disappointment that not enough was done by the New Mexico legislature when it came to enacting legislation that could actually bring down violent crime. The Governor’s ill-advised veto of Senate Bill 48 made things even worse by antagonizing the entire legislature both Democrats and Republicans alike.
There now exists a very unique opportunity to deal with all 3 major issues all at one time and do so with compromise.