SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or a risk to others, in an emotionally charged debate on the eve of Thursday's anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The gun-seizure bill would allow police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns.
The House also gave its approval Wednesday to raising New Mexico's statewide minimum wage for the first time in a decade. That bill would increase base wages from $7.50 an hour to $12 by July 2021, with automatic increases tied to inflation thereafter.
The initiatives now move to the Senate — the last major hurdle for two bills favored by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Personal testimonials from lawmakers about the physical and emotional trauma of gun violence punctuated the late-night debate over a bill that allows firearms to be taken away for up to a year by court order based on requests by a relative or police. People accused of being an imminent threat would have to right to an appeals hearing within 15 days to try and retrieve their guns.
Democratic state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena of Mesilla recalled the lasting trauma of an abusive and violent relationship and the terror of the day when her partner brought home a gun, suggesting the proposed gun-seizure law could rescue people from mortal danger.
"There may be a sister who has seen the threats escalate," she said. "For too many women and people that may not have the room or the mechanisms to find a way out of violence themselves, this legislation gives them mechanisms for other to do so."
Republican Rep. Rachel Black of Alamogordo provided an immediate counterpoint, arguing against the bill while describing her father's gun suicide — after he shot her mother and a man she was with.
"I don't believe that taking someone's guns away necessarily will save lives," said Black, calling mental health treatment the real issue. "Had my father not shot my mother, chances are he would have set the house on fire."
The bill's co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, stressed the bill's potential to prevent suicides. The bill cleared the House on a 39-30 vote.
Outside the House chamber, about 30 high-school aged students gathered in the Capitol rotunda to mark the approaching anniversary on Thursday of the Parkland massacre.
They wore T-shirts bearing the names and ages of people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. New Mexico's governor appeared briefly to praise them for pushing peacefully for new gun-safety regulations.
Democrats are testing the Legislature's appetite for proposals not only on gun control and wages but also climate change and abortion during a legislatives session that ends on March 16.
House Speaker Brian Egolf said Tuesday that New Mexico voters want to see results after giving Democrats a mandate for change with the election of Lujan Grisham and an expanded Democratic House majority.
The House-approved minimum wage bill would gradually discontinue an exemption to the full minimum wage for tipped workers — largely restaurant wait staff.
Under current law, businesses can pay workers as little as $2.13 an hour if they earn enough tips to surpass the state's $7.50 minimum hourly wage. Restaurant owners and some staff have protested major changes to that system, while advocates for change say the exemption is prone to abuse.
Republican House minority leader James Townsend said he feared the base-wage increase would result in layoffs.
"These steps are too much, too quick," he said. "I think there will be reductions in forces."
The sponsor of the wage bill, Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque, emphasized that a base-wage increase should raise consumer spending and boost the economy.
"It's the economy that is going to benefit," he said. "It's an economy made up businesses. It's an economy made up of workers."
The Republican minority in the House of Representatives that controls 24 out of 70 seats has pushed back to little avail so far against advancing bills that would expand background checks on private gun sales and strike the state's dormant criminal ban on abortion in case the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn a decision that makes the procedure legal.
Also on Wednesday, a bill to allow medically assisted suicide was sent to the House floor after two committee endorsements. The bill would allow health providers to prescribe life-ending medication for terminally ill patients who are estimated to have less than six months to live.
Republicans and the local Roman Catholic church oppose the measure. The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque, describes it as a matter of personal freedom.