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Legislature needs common-man focus

Looking for an opportunity to become totally enraged about a political system that favors the businessman while screwing the little guy? Follow me.

There is a move under way to place hurdles in the path of regulations, long, long overdue, to protect convenience-store workers.

Because late-night convenience clerks are particularly vulnerable to thugs, regulations passed last month require:

n Stores open past 11 p.m. to have two persons on duty during the night hours.

n Signs reminding thugs — those who can read — that no more than $50 cash is on hand.

n Quarterly safety training for employees.

A slam dunk, right? I mean, who could possibly voice anything but enthusiastic support for a procedure that finally protects the late-night convenience store worker?

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, that’s who. And Republican Sen. William Sharer of Farmington, that’s who.

Sen. Smith wants a “legislative analysis” prepared to determine the costs of the new regulations. Oh, my aching you know what.

How about the price of one life, one beating? Look, the folks who take these jobs aren’t those who just turned down a position of vice president of their local bank. They didn’t say, “Oh, gee, thanks, but no. I’d rather sell cigarettes to drunks for minimum wage.” No, these are people who accept the midnight shift because that’s the only way they can pay the rent.

Sen. Sharer doesn’t think there is a real problem with late-night convenience store crime. He thinks the crime statistics are bogus. Here they are. See what you think.

A five-year study of violent acts against convenience store clerks working late at night, based on police reports in Albuquerque, Farmington, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Taos, found 16 reported murders, 24 rapes, 37 kidnappings, 1,918 assaults, and seven drive-by shootings.

“We’ve implemented regulations to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Sharer says. Oh, really?

Is there any need for these stricter rules? Ask Mitch Austin. “All the measures that have been in place up to now have made no difference,” he said. Mitch Austin would qualify as an expert. He has a paralyzed arm after being shot while working at an Allsup’s convenience store in Taos two years ago.

There are 800 convenience stores in New Mexico. Most of them are run by chains. Some are mom and pop operations. It is conceivable some will not be able to afford two night-time employees and will have to close during those hours. So, close or install the bullet resistant plastic the regulations permit. But don’t put in danger one more clerk’s life.

The state Environmental Improvement Board is responsible for the convenience-store workplace safety improvements. It was directed to get involved by a legislator who cares, Democratic State Sen. Richard Martinez of Espanola. Martinez sponsored legislation asking the Improvement Board to look into the situation.

Ruben Baca, head of the New Mexico Petroleum Marketer’s Association, questioned why the Environment Improvement Board and not the State Legislature was making the rules.

Good point. The State Legislature is capable of enacting progressive measures. But sometimes it concentrates more on special interests than it does on the needs of the common man.

Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He welcomes response at:

[email protected]