NEW MEXICO (AP) –It will be up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide what authority the state has to enforce certain provisions of the public health orders that have stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to businesses. Arguments will be presented during an Aug. 4 remote hearing.
About a dozen business owners and companies sued the state in May, challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority to levy $5,000 fines for violating the public health orders. The plaintiffs argue that state law authorizes fines of $100 or less in such cases, not the $5,000-per-day penalty cited by state officials.
The lawsuit, initially filed in the state’s 9th Judicial District, seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from threatening to impose the larger fines.
The Democratic governor has declined in recent weeks to ease any more restrictions on businesses because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. New Mexico on Tuesday reported an additional 221 cases, bringing the total to more than 13,700. Nearly 520 deaths in the state have been attributed to the virus.
Worldwide, the number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported numbers because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. But for some – especially older adults and people with existing health problems – it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The shutdown in New Mexico began in March with the governor’s stay-at-home order, which forced many businesses to close as health officials looked to stunt the spread of the coronavirus. While restaurants, breweries, salons, gyms and other establishments have since been allowed to reopen at reduced capacities, some small businesses had to close for good after not being able to weather the storm.
Federal data released this week named a fraction of the businesses that received loans through the U.S. government’s $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program. The program was launched in April to help smaller businesses keep Americans employed during the pandemic.
In New Mexico, tens of thousands of businesses received loans totaling more than $2.2 billion with nearly a quarter of a million workers affected. Most of the loans went to full-service restaurants followed by law offices, dentists, real estate agents and brokers, oilfield service companies, hotels and doctors’ offices.
Many business groups have been pushing the governor to reconsider her restrictions, pointing to the economic fallout and damage to the state’s coffers due to lost tax revenues.
“During this pandemic, New Mexico suffers from two threats: the coronavirus, which all are affected by in one way or another, and a lack of leadership from a governor who is quick to threaten another total lockdown while not considering the people her decisions would negatively impact,” said Steve Pearce, chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico.
The party helped organize the litigation.
The lawsuit names Lujan Grisham, Public Safety Secretary Mark Shea and Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel as defendants.