Home News COVID-19 Situation GOP: Small businesses unfairly burdened by health orders

GOP: Small businesses unfairly burdened by health orders

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Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce and some Chaves County lawmakers said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham should allow some businesses not deemed essential by the state to reopen.

In a virtual press conference Monday that included Chaves County lawmakers, and several New Mexico business owners, Pearce said restrictions imposed in public health orders issued last month, to combat COVID-19, are driving small and local businesses to the brink of collapse.

“Men and women who have invested their lives in this state are being run out of business,” he said.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and the New Mexico Department of Health in March issued several emergency public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

One order requires businesses and nonprofits not deemed essential by the state to suspend operations. Businesses that fail to comply face citations and fines. The order, that was set to expire April 10, was extended last week until April 30.

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Pearce though said Monday the restrictions are unfairly burdening small businesses, while allowing larger national retailers and companies to continue to operate.

“We can’t afford to watch our businesses, the local mom and pop operations, driven out of business by regulations that allow people to go to big corporate giant big box stores, but they can’t go to the next door neighbor’s store,” Pearce said.

He said he knows of a local bank that was forced to close its lobby to customers, but that a bank housed in a Wal-Mart was able to continue to operate as if COVID-19 had not taken hold.

One business owner who took part in the call said she does not think she should have to shut down while businesses deemed essential be allowed to stay open.

“What I would like to see is that all these small businesses be opened back up to the public under the same guidelines that everyone else is open under,” said Dee Ann Kimbro, owner of Country Store Quilt Shop in Lovington.

Lawmakers are also hearing from constituents affected by the economic downturn.

State House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia, whose district in the New Mexico House of Representatives includes portions of Chaves, Eddy and Otero counties, said the negative economic impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic itself are two crises that must both be dealt with.

Townsend said he has been inundated with calls not just from people laid off from work, but small business owners forced to make agonizing decisions to remain afloat.

“They don’t like laying employees off, they can’t afford them, and they don’t know what they can do,” Townsend said.

State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, whose district encompasses parts of Chaves, Eddy and Otero counties, said he too thinks businesses can be allowed to operate, while also responsibly following social distancing guidelines. He cities as an example gas stations that are erecting partitions at counters between clerks and customers.

“I think if we did take a little bit of a commonsense approach, we could get New Mexico back to work while also maintaining the safety of all our employees,” he said.

Shelly Quartieri, co-owner of Colfax Tavern & Diner in Cimarron, who said she has been forced to close her doors temporarily under the restrictions, said she thinks it is unfair people and businesses in sparsely populated rural areas are subject to the same guidelines as more densely populated counties with more infections.

Restrictions on businesses are subject to, she said, should be determined by the population density of an area or the number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, and not be uniform across the state.

“This is not a cookie cutter world we live in,” she said.

Pirtle, who is also a farmer, said it is also crucial to hear what New Mexicans can expect economically while the state continues to grapple with the virus and the economic downturn it has produced.

“And so from government, whether it is at the local, state or federal level, we really need to have a long-term plan: how long do we really continue doing this so we can make decisions that will affect our employees and our operations as a whole,” Pirtle said.

The governor’s office late Monday defended the public health orders, saying they are necessary, and that the economy cannot fully be reopened until the virus is defeated.

Nora Sackett, press secretary for the Office of the Governor, said, “Anything other than that — any half thought out proposal about picking winners and losers and allowing partial closures or what have you … will lead to more illnesses and more death.”

Sackett added that in rural areas, even ones with few infections, the smallest outbreak of COVID-19 could overwhelm their health care system and lead to more deaths.

None of the public health orders issued by Lujan Grisham, she noted, prioritize big box retailers over small New Mexico businesses.

She said businesses deemed essential are determined by the principles of health, safety and welfare.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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