With a mere 7 days left of the 2023 New Mexico legislature, things are heating up with major bills being acted upon. Following is what has happened in Santa Fe over the last few days:
“BENNIE’S BILL” PASSES
On March 8, House Bill 9, commonly known as “Bennie’s Bill” passed the New Mexico House after passage in the Senate. It is now goes to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her likely approval and signature to become law. “Bennie’s Bill” is named after 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove. A classmate shot and killed him using a parents gun at their Albuquerque middle school in 2021. 14-year-old Juan Saucedo Jr. used a parent’s gun from home in the shooting. On March 2, Saucedo plead no contest to second-degree murder, and will stay in custody until he’s 21.
House Bill 9 deals with unlawful access to firearm by minor. The legislation is sponsored by sponsored by Rep. Pamelya Herndon, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Rep. Joanne Ferry, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballerro. The bill was originally written as a safe gun storage bill, but was amended to secure more support.
House Bill 9 makes it a crime to store a firearm in a way that negligently disregards the ability of a minor to access it. Criminal charges could be brought only if the minor later brandishes or displays the firearm in a threatening way or uses it to kill or injure someone. Senate Republicans succeeded in amending the bill by a narrow 20-19 vote to exempt hunting and other recreational activities involving firearms from being covered by the bill. House Bill 9 would make it a misdemeanor to negligently allow a child access to a firearm, and would make it a felony if that negligence resulted in someone dying or suffering great bodily harm.
Bennie Hargrove’s grandmother, Vanessa Sawyer said this about passage of the legislation:
“It’s a preventative measure. It’s not something that’s going to solve the problem, but it’s a start. I’m glad that New Mexico was willing to take that start. It may save lives and it will hold people accountable for not being responsible with a gun. … This is amazing, very moving and emotional. I’m happy that a change is about to take place for New Mexico. It’s a very important law and the family can’t believe it has happened. … We’re sorry that it happened this way following his death. I feel Bennie is going to rest now. He’s going to be satisfied and just as excited as I am.”
Rep. Pamelya Herndon, the primary sponsor of House Bill 9, had this to say about its passage:
“While life will never be the same for Bennie’s family, House Bill 9 will help prevent other families in New Mexico from experiencing the same unthinkable tragedy. … This bill is the result of years of hard work by the families and students who have been affected by gun violence, and I am so happy to see it finally cross the finish line in the legislature and head to the Governor’s desk.”
VOTING RIGHTS ACT PASSES FULL SENATE
On March 8, House Bill 4, the Voting Rights Act, passed the NM Senate on a 27 to 14 party line vote after 3 hours of debate. The major provisions of House Bill 4 are as follows:
- Phasing in a system of automatic voter registration, such as during MVD transactions, for citizens who are qualified to vote but aren’t registered. Supporters say it would include an opt-out for those who don’t want to register, similar to what’s used in Colorado.
- Creation of a permanent absentee voter list. Voters would have the option of opting in to receive ballots by mail before every election rather than having to apply each time.
- Automatic restoration of voting rights for inmates exiting prison. Under the current system, they must complete probation or parole before registering to vote again. There are 21 states that automatically restore voting rights after incarceration. Another 16, including New Mexico, require someone convicted of a felony to complete their entire sentence, including probation and parole, before registering to vote.
- Establishing a Native American Voting Rights Act intended to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land and allow the use of tribal buildings as a voter-registration address for people without a traditional address.
- Calling for election day to be a state holiday.
It was Republican Senator William Sharer, R-Farmington, who effectively killed the measure last year with a filibuster on the Senate floor. In order to run out the clock on the legislative session, Sharer talked about San Juan River fly-fishing, baseball rules, Navajo Code Talkers and the celestial alignment of the sun and moon during his lengthy filler buster on the Senate floor. Sharer’s antics are a prime example of the lengths Republicans will go to in order to interfere with a person’s right to vote and make it as difficult as possible to vote and to disenfranchise people.
Albuquerque area Democrat Senator Katy Duhigg, a former Cit of Albuquerque City Clerk and sponsor of the bill had this to say during debate:
“Our democracy, our sacred right to vote is under threat and this requires a strong community driven response. That’s why this bill is before this body today. The most significant— or the biggest part of this bill— is the Native American Voting Rights Act. As you all know, Native Americans have only had the right to vote in New Mexico for 74 years. And while we recognize the courage and perseverance of [Native Americans], we must also recognize our role in disenfranchising native voters in New Mexico and the long way we have to go in eliminating double standards for our states original inhabitants. … [House Bill 4 seeks to align] precinct boundaries so that they honor the existing political boundaries of tribes and pueblos by requiring translation services at the polls, allowing voters living on tribal lands to designate tribal government buildings as mailing addresses to facilitate absentee voting, and giving tribal governments more ability to administer elections in ways that makes sense for their communities honoring local expertise and tribal sovereignty.”
Farmington area Republican Senator Bill Sharer offered a floor substitute that included an update to the Native American Voting Rights Act which included broadcasting in native languages of nations, tribes and pueblos and allows the nations, tribes and pueblos to determine their own precinct and polling locations. The floor substitute failed on a 14 to 27 vote.
Duhigg found the floor substitute interesting but opposed it and said this:
“I’ll say I think there are actually some interesting ideas in here that, had I seen them at anytime before we were in the middle of the floor debate on the bill, I probably would have been interested in integrating them into the bill and I’d be happy to work in the next session on continuing to bolster our Native American Voting Rights Act. … But at this time, this is unfriendly because it would deprive New Mexico voters of all the other protections in the bill.”
Republican Senators repeated many of their of the same objections and criticism of the almost identical Voting Rights Act that the voted against last year. Those objections included:
- The voluntary permanent absentee voter list which allows people to choose to sign up to be put on a list to receive an absentee ballot through the mail for each election. Currently, voters must request an absentee ballot for each election. Under the permanent absentee voter provision, a voter would fall off the list if they did not vote in two consecutive elections.
- Restoring the right to vote for felons released from prison and updating the process for automatic voter registration so that it is an opt in process rather than an opt out process. The issue with the opt-in-opt-out question is that some religious faiths reject involvement in politics. Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, said that he had been in contact with lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are a faith that remains politically neutral based on biblical teachings.
- Republicans objected to the monitored, secured ballot drop boxes and argued they would be subject to easy theft. The boxes are monitored by motion sensor video surveillance which are public records. Duhigg responded that the boxes are anchored to the ground to prevent theft, Duhigg said.
House Bill 4 will now be referred to the House for concurrence since the bill was amended in committee. If the bill is signed into law, the bill would go into effect January 1, 2024.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
BILL BANNING FIREARMS FROM POLLING PLACES ADVANCES TO HOUSE FLOOR
On March 7, Senate Bill 44 which will bar firearms from being brought within 100 feet of a polling place of from taking a firearm inside a polling place passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 5-4 party line vote with all Democrats voting YES in favor and all Republicans NO in opposition.
Mason Graham, the policy director for Common Cause New Mexico, a group that supports the legislation, said at least one report was received during last year’s election cycle of an individual armed with a firearm at a polling place. Graham said such instances can deter some voters from casting a ballot.
Senate Bill 44 was opposed by all Republican lawmakers on the committee who questioned whether it could apply to businesses or homes located adjacent to a polling place. Clovis area Republican Andrea Reeb, a former District Attorney, had this to say:.
“It seems like it’s going to cause a lot more issues than it’s going to solve.”
Democratic House Judiciary Committee supporters of the bill said common sense would prevail in such situations comparing the bill to a current prohibition against bringing guns into school zones.
HOUSE BILL 306 PROHIBITING PURCHASE OF FIREARMS FOR FELONS
Currently, there is no law in New Mexico to punish someone who gives a firearm to a convicted felon.
The House Judiciary Committee endorsed HOUSE BILL 306 that would make it a fourth-degree felony to knowingly buy a firearm for someone who is not eligible to possess the weapon, such as a convicted felon or a minor. House Bill 30 is sponsored by House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, and backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It passed the committee without dissent on a 9-0 vote.
On March House Bill 306 passed the New Mexico House with a 62-3 vote with bipartisan support.
Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Raymundo Lara said this about its passage:
“The loophole is that the law does not exist. So, this is the very first time something like this has happened. And I’m very happy to see that it’s a bipartisan effort. House Bill 306 is a bill that will hold people accountable when they purchase a firearm for another person who shouldn’t have it. And we were careful to include the purchases and the transfer of firearms.”
New Mexico House Minority Leader Republican Rep. Ryan Lane and Democratic Rep. Raymundo Lara worked together on the bill. Lane said this:
“It’s important in New Mexico because right now our state prosecutors and our state police officers can’t pursue these types of crimes. And so, it gives our law enforcement another tool to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
House Bill 306 will now be forwarded to the Senate for consideration.
The measures are among a gun safety bills that are still in the mix as lawmakers enter the homestretch of the 60-day legislative session that started Jan. 17.
Senate Bill 44 and HOUSE BILL 306 are among numerous firearm regulations proposals that are under considerations. However, the majority of the others have stalled in committee including the proposed ban the sale of automatic firearms and hollow-point ammunition the proposal to establish a 14-day waiting period before the completion of a gun sale.
On March 8, Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Senate Bill 427 a waiting period bill with an exception for buyers who have a permit to carry a concealed firearm, sending it on to the full Senate. Senate Bill 427 is sponsored by Democratic Senator Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and it is similar to another bill awaiting action by the House, though the House version doesn’t have the concealed-carry exemption.
The link to quoted news source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The 60-day session ends March 18. Given the fact that there is a mere 8 days left of the 2023 legislative session, it is becoming painfully obvious that there is much legislation, especially gun control legislation, that is not going to get enacted and it’s a damn shame.
Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 in the Senate. New Mexico Democrats are looking very foolish not enacting their priorities, especially reasonable and responsible gun control measures, as New Mexico Republican legislators continue with obstructionist tactics.