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Townsend takes another shot at ballot measure

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House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, resubmitted his draft petition to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office Tuesday, the latest attempt to repeal through state referendum Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), a law that requires federal background checks for all firearm sales.

“Senate Bill 8 proposes to limit the constitutional rights of New Mexicans. I say let the people decide on this matter that directly impacts their civil liberties,” Townsend said in a press release Tuesday.

Townsend and House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, initially sent a letter to the Secretary of State’s office in early March with draft language for petitions needed for gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

If it gets on the ballot and wins the majority support from voters, the referendum would overturn SB 8, but language for such a petition must first be approved by the Secretary of State.

Toulouse Oliver though stated in a March 21 letter to Townsend after he had sent the initial petition language for review, that his petition was rejected.

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The New Mexico Constitution affords people the power to disapprove, suspend or annul a law passed by the Legislature through the referendum process unless the law was designed to protect public health, safety or peace.

Toulouse Oliver said in her letter to Townsend that the law was intended to curb gun violence and cited several statements by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and backers of the bill. She added that the New Mexico Attorney General agreed with that interpretation.

Four technical deficiencies were also cited in the letter as grounds for rejection of the petition.

In his letter to Toulouse Oliver Tuesday, Townsend said the four technical issues with the petition had been addressed, and that he disagrees with the argument that the law is not subject to referendum.

He said it is the courts and not the Secretary of State or New Mexico Attorney General who have the authority to unilaterally decide if a piece of legislation meets the public peace, health and safety standard laid out in the New Mexico Constitution.

“The Secretary of State’s responsibility is to ensure that the petition process is correctly followed and any petition put before the public conforms to the format set by the State Constitution. Any ruling beyond matters of form and process exceeds the bounds of your office,” Townsend said in the letter.

Townsend said back in March after Toulouse Oliver’s rejection of the petition, that he would rework it to address the deficiencies. He would then resubmit the petition and if it was still not approved, he and other backers of the effort would be willing to take the matter to court.

SB 8 passed by both chambers of the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during this year’s 60-day legislative session.

Republicans, gun rights advocates and most of the state’s 33 county sheriffs have come out against the law saying it would be unenforceable as written and would infringe on the rights of people to keep and bear arms.

County commissions and several city councils across New Mexico expressed their opposition to the law by passing resolutions, saying they would not dedicate resources to the enforcement of laws that conflict with the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.