New bill would give ABQ mayor additional ’emergency’ powers

(Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal file)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s mayor could soon have new authority to close sporting venues, theaters and more in the face of spreading infectious disease and also to make private employers take steps to keep employees safe.

New legislation going before the City Council next week would broaden the mayor’s “emergency powers” to cover an actual or imminent infectious disease outbreak “that presents an unusual threat to the health or safety of the residents of the City or threatens to unreasonably strain the medical or emergency” resources available.

City ordinance presently limits those powers to situations like riots and natural disasters.

The proposed update comes amid the global coronavirus pandemic. State officials on Wednesday announced four confirmed cases in New Mexico, including a Bernalillo County woman.

The city has announced activation of its “Emergency Operations Center and Joint Operations Center” to coordinate the local response to the virus. Mayor Tim Keller and officials from Bernalillo County, Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center are scheduled to hold a news conference there Thursday morning.

Local officials already have taken certain precautions, including closing the Main Library in Downtown Albuquerque early on Wednesday for a “deep cleaning” after what a city spokeswoman called a library employee’s “rumored potential exposure” to the virus. Spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said the potential exposure occurred at the library and the city immediately notified the New Mexico Department of Health.

The library is slated to open as normal Thursday, she said.

The proposed update to the city’s emergency powers ordinance “basically adds a public health provision to the provision governing disasters like earthquakes and riots since those rules don’t really apply to this type of situation and don’t cover the thing we needed,” City Council President Pat Davis, the legislation’s sponsor, said Wednesday.

He said he wants the council to use its emergency powers to both introduce and vote on the bill at the council’s Monday meeting.

The proposed ordinance update would also allow the mayor to order the closure of places of mass assembly, such as theaters and sports stadiums, and “places of institutional child care,” like day cares and private schools.

The mayor could also require private companies to “take reasonable measures (as determined by each employer) to minimize any exposures to unusual infectious diseases or health risks to employees and customers.” That could include new sanitation protocols or closures, according to examples listed in the bill.

The legislation would enable the mayor to cancel city-sponsored events and redistribute city resources to address the emergency.

The mayor’s emergency powers would still include the authority to set curfews, close streets, order the closure of bars and stop the sale of gasoline and firearms.

Emergency proclamations made by the mayor can last up to seven days under the legislation – up from the current limit of 48 hours – though City Council would have the ability to end it sooner. The council could also extend the proclamation to a maximum of 90 days.

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