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Security upgrades at Capitol advised

SANTA FE – A committee is recommending that the Legislature fund some modest security upgrades – such as card key access and more cameras – in porous areas of the Capitol.

The decision by the Capitol Security Subcommittee is part of a broader, ongoing conversation about how to make the building more secure without sacrificing its accessibility to the public.

The subcommittee last week agreed to recommend to the Legislative Council – a bipartisan leadership committee – that it support an appropriation during the 2017 legislative session for security upgrades projected to cost at least $275,000.

Doors leading from the underground parking garage into the Capitol building, which are not intended for use by the general public, would require card keys under the plan.

An existing security arm at the underground garage’s entrance and a gate at its exit would be upgraded. And additional cameras would be installed on the bottom level of the Capitol, where the House and Senate chambers are located.

The subcommittee spent much of its meeting Thursday in a closed-door executive session, but proposals tossed around during the public portion of the meeting also included better communication methods and training for the building’s occupants, as well as more security guards.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto

The challenge is to “balance the historic openness we’ve had in the state Capitol with the modern realities of security threats,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said after the meeting.

The panel also briefly debated in the public session whether the open carrying of weapons in the Capitol should be prohibited, which has been proposed in previous legislative sessions, but never approved.

New Mexico is one of only a few states that allow that, and gun rights advocates have worn weapons to the Capitol and into meetings of committees that were considering gun control legislation.

Sen. Peter Wirth

Sen. Peter Wirth

“This building has to be considered a safe place for the public” and the open carrying of guns “scares the public big time,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. He is the newly elected Senate majority leader and a lawyer who contrasts the tight security at courthouses with the wide-open Capitol.

Wirth has previously proposed changing the Senate rules to prohibit guns in Senate-controlled areas of the Capitol, such as the chamber, the public gallery, committee rooms and some hallways. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who is in line to be the next House speaker, also has previously proposed a similar rules change for the House.

But some lawmakers disagree with such a ban.

Sen. William E. Sharer

Sen. William E. Sharer

“Gun-free zones scare me to death,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, a committee member, who cited a series of mass shootings that have occurred in gun-free zones.

The security subcommittee didn’t make any recommendation regarding guns at the Capitol, but Wirth said later he is optimistic “there is a bipartisan understanding we need to have the discussion – and that’s a big step forward.”