New Mexico lawmaker hopes to close state arson law loophole

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SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Set a fire on state lands and you face a felony charge, but do it in the city-owned Bosque and it’s only a misdemeanor. Now, one lawmaker is pushing to close that loophole.

Rep. Nate Gentry wants to even up the charges, something Albuquerque’s fire chief also wants. This bill is a direct result of multiple Bosque fires in Albuquerque — the stiffer charges are something the mayor and Albuquerque Fire Department asked for last summer.

Rep. Gentry’s bill adds the word “wildlands” to the state arson law. The only statute currently on the books that directly addresses “wildlands” arson is when the fire is set on state land. That’s a felony, but a fire set anywhere else that only burns trees or brush just falls to a misdemeanor charge.

“It’s important because currently there’s a loophole that doesn’t allow prosecution of people who burn our forests and wildlands,” Rep. Gentry said.

The bill would make it a fourth degree felony, meaning up to 18 months in jail. Arsonists who start wildfires that burn down homes and buildings already face more serious felony charges.

The bill has unanimously cleared House committees. It’s now waiting for a full vote from the House, which could happen Tuesday. Then it’s off to the Senate.

A separate bill related to firefighters who experience PTSD is now in the governor’s hands. It passed the Senate Monday night. The bill adds PTSD to the Firefighter Occupational Disease Act.

If signed into law, Sen. Michael Padilla, a sponsor of the bill, says it will ensure firefighters who suffer from PTSD get effective treatment.

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