This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
In a world where protests and counter-protests are becoming more common, a pair of House lawmakers want to keep demonstrators from getting too close for comfort.
House Bill 276, introduced by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, would make it a misdemeanor for anyone participating in “targeted residential picketing” — carrying signs, making noise, organizing protests—within 100 feet of someone’s home.
The bill would apply to every state resident. But lawmakers believe it’s more likely to affect public officials, according to testimony at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday.
Committee members said legislators, in particular, might be feeling more vulnerable after the uprising at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Some spoke about people coming onto their property to steal campaign signs, plant signs critical of their stance on legislation or make threats. “If they are willing to do that, how much farther are they willing to go?” asked Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan. “I never felt this before. This is the first year I’ve felt this. It’s not a comfortable feeling.”
Harper, who is not a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said homes should be “a sanctuary” for anyone, be they public officials or private citizens.
Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, said one reason she chose to come to Santa Fe for this year’s mostly virtual session was so “folks looking for me were looking for me in the Capitol” and not at her home. “I have faced threats in my elected office,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Still, Republicans and Democrats on the committee raised questions about the bill’s potential to violate free speech rights. “This is a tricky issue because of First Amendment issues,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo. He added a public street or sidewalk could be within that 100-foot area, making it difficult to enforce such a law.
Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, noted the legislation would not help a public official or other resident escape such actions elsewhere — such as a hotel in Santa Fe during the legislative session. “Where should you feel safety?” he asked.
Members of the committee voted 8-4 along party lines, with Democrats in support of the bipartisan bill, to move it to the House floor for consideration.
A misdemeanor charge could lead to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.