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House speaker calls for special session on domestic terrorism

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, shown during the final days of this year’s 60-day session, wants a special session to be called this year to pass bills aimed at domestic terrorism. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – House Speaker Brian Egolf has urged the governor to call a special session that would focus on legislation aimed at combating potential domestic terrorism in New Mexico, saying elected officials need to show leadership after a mass shooting in neighboring El Paso.

Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, said Tuesday the special session could take place after leading lawmakers hear from law enforcement officials and state Cabinet secretaries at a domestic terrorism summit later this month. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the summit earlier this week.

The special session would likely last one or two days and could focus on legislation creating a counterterrorism unit within the state Department of Public Safety and increasing funding for law enforcement agencies, Egolf said.

It’s unclear whether gun-related legislation could also be part of the special session.

“There’s a lot I think we could do to take the fight to people planning to commit acts of terrorism,” Egolf said in an interview.

“I see no reason to wait,” he said. “I think New Mexico needs to send a message that we are going to confront this head-on.”

A spokesman for Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat, said Tuesday that special session talk was premature, at least until the domestic terrorism summit takes place.

Lujan Grisham has signed into law two gun-related bills this year: expanding background check requirements for firearms sales and prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from possessing guns.

“I certainly share the speaker’s sense of urgency, as does the governor,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

Under New Mexico’s Constitution, only the governor has the authority to call lawmakers to Santa Fe for a special session. Legislators also have the ability to convene in extraordinary session, though that has only been done once in state history.

The cost of taxpayer-funded special sessions can vary depending on how long they last and other factors. In the past, they’ve cost more than $50,000 a day in some cases and less than $40,000 a day in others.

New Mexico’s last special session was in May 2017, when lawmakers were summoned to Santa Fe by then-Gov. Susana Martinez to balance the state’s budget and restore vetoed higher education funding.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said Tuesday that he was not ready to join Egolf’s call for a special session, saying top lawmakers should first listen to the ideas presented during the domestic terrorism summit next Wednesday.

But he expressed concern about recent mass shootings.

“We’ve got to teach our young men this is not something that gets you glory,” he said.

Egolf said it’s urgent that action be taken because New Mexico, where Hispanics make up 48% of the population, could be targeted. Authorities are investigating whether the El Paso suspect posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online before the shooting.

“We owe it to the people of our state to respond swiftly and with absolute resolve,” Egolf said.

He also expressed confidence that any legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature would protect constitutional rights and civil liberties, saying he opposed the federal Patriot Act, which then-President George W. Bush signed into law in 2001.

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