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SANTA FE – As Albuquerque faces a record-breaking year of homicides and reels from a school shooting, New Mexico lawmakers said Monday they will ask Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to add crime and firearms legislation to the agenda of the next regular session.
No consensus emerged Monday, but the ideas include imposing tougher criminal penalties, authorizing extra money to hire more police officers and requiring gun owners to lock up their firearms.
The discussion comes as legislators prepare for two legislative sessions – a special redistricting session later this year and a 30-day regular session starting Jan. 18.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is largely empowered to set the agenda for each session.
A spokeswoman said Monday the governor is open-minded as she begins talks with legislative leaders about what bills to authorize for consideration.
“Crime and criminal justice are absolutely among the topics that the governor is interested in pursuing early next year,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said Monday.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he and Lujan Grisham have discussed funding 1,000 new law enforcement officers over the next 10 years and adding other crime legislation to the legislative agenda.
“Too many New Mexicans are worried about their safety and their property in their own neighborhoods,” Egolf said in a written statement.
In interviews, Democratic and Republican lawmakers offered vastly different ideas for how to respond as Albuquerque endures another burst of violence – including the killing of a 13-year-old middle school student, a police shooting and the city’s 84th suspected homicide, all since Friday.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and retired Bernalillo County sheriff’s captain.
‘No easy solution’
Democratic Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque said she and a few other legislators plan to ask Lujan Grisham to revive a proposal that would make it a crime to fail 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.
The father of the suspect in last week’s school shooting, police say in court documents, had reported that his handgun was missing from his residence.
“It’s just a devastating situation,” Sedillo Lopez said.
She proposed the storage legislation, Senate Bill 224, earlier this year, but it died in committee without reaching the full Senate.
Sedillo Lopez, a retired University of New Mexico law professor, was the sole sponsor of the proposal this year, but she said Monday that at least four other Democratic lawmakers are interested in co-sponsoring the bill next year.
The proposal, she said, could be one component of a broader strategy to improve public safety. It might be named “Bennie’s Law” after the 13-year-old student, Bennie Hargrove, who died in last week’s school shooting.
Rehm – a Republican who has repeatedly pushed in the House for tougher criminal penalties – said he reached out to Lujan Grisham on Monday “to have her look at my legislation and see if we can’t come to some compromise.”
His ideas include lifting the six-year statute of limitations on second-degree murder charges, expanding New Mexico’s three-strikes law, revising the bail system and making it a felony to take a gun to a drug transaction.
Democratic lawmakers – who hold majorities in the House and Senate – have generally blocked proposals to enhance criminal sentences, but tougher penalties have sometimes won approval as part of broader anti-crime packages.
Egolf, the House speaker, said there’s “no easy solution” on the horizon.
But, as a state, he said, “we must remain focused on addressing the root causes of crime, while also providing law enforcement with the tools they need to get criminals off our streets.
“To that end, the governor and I are in close conversation about getting effective crime-fighting legislation on the call next session, including a serious investment in funding 1,000 new law enforcement officers over 10 years who would also be trained in community-oriented policing.”
Shaping an agenda
Lujan Grisham, who’s up for reelection next year, is in position to shape the legislative agenda.
In even years, the state Legislature meets in regular session for just 30 days, with the agenda limited to budget and tax legislation, proposed constitutional amendments and previously vetoed bills.
But the governor can grant authorization to take up other topics or specific bills.
Lawmakers are also expected to meet this year for a special session dedicated to drawing new congressional and other political districts. Lujan Grisham has the option of broadening the agenda for that session.
Sackett said the governor is keeping an “open mind” as she talks with legislators.
Lujan Grisham has ideas that “she plans on discussing with legislative leadership, as well as some that she has raised already,” Sackett said, “and we’re optimistic that some of those will gain consensus as we move towards the session.”