House passes lethal injection bill

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The city commission’s recent decision to stay with carbon monoxide and reject euthanizing unwanted animals by lethal injection may have just run out of gas.

A bill sailed through the New Mexico House on Thursday on a 62-3 vote prohibits the use of gas chambers to euthanize animals.

If it becomes state law, the bill would affect shelters in four communities in the state — Clovis, Jal, Tucumcari and Lovington. It will also affect Portales, which uses the Clovis facility to dispose of its unwanted animals.

Other communities across the state already use lethal injection.

Clovis rejected the switch in a hotly debated and narrow vote last December. Commissioners decided 4-3 against changing from a carbon monoxide gas chamber to using lethal injection.

Commissioners also rejected a $100,000 offer from the governor to help the city if it acted in advance of what many predicted would be a change in state law.

“I believe that what the city is doing right now is humane,” Mayor Pro-Tem Randy Crowder said Thursday.

Crowder said he has no regrets about voting against the switch and does not feel the city lost out.

“I don’t know that that offer (from the governor) ever existed. There was nothing in writing. That was an offer that may or may not have been,” he said.

And even if the new bill becomes state law, Crowder said he believes the citizens will have still saved a considerable amount of money just by delaying the change.

According to the latest available figures, Clovis Animal Shelter destroyed 2,457 cats and dogs in 2007 using carbon monoxide. Figures for 2008 haven’t yet been released by police.

Portales, which brings animals to Clovis to be euthanized, shares in the cost of operating and maintaining Clovis’ gas chambers.

Costs for making the switch are estimated at $141,200 for the first year, and $92,200 for subsequent years, with money coming from the city’s general fund.

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, who voted in support of changing to lethal injection said he wishes the commission would have voted differently in December.

“I think it’s going to pass and it’s going to cost us $100,000 because our commission didn’t vote the way I thought they should, but their vote counted just as much as mine and they voted their conscience. I know I voted mine,” he said.

Commissioners who voted against the switch to lethal injection said they weren’t convinced gas was less humane than lethal injection. They also said they were concerned there would be additional costs the city, estimating the switch to lethal injection would cost the city $1 million over the next 10 years and would hamper its ability to grant employee raises.

They also said they didn’t want the city to give in to unfunded state mandates.

“I still believe it’s an unfunded mandate by the state (and) that it will cost our city a great deal of money,” Crowder said.

Last year, pressure from special interest groups led the commission to create subcommittees to evaluate the issue of animal euthanasia as well as spaying and neutering, licensing and other topics.

Another measure passed by the House Thursday increases penalties for anyone causing death or great bodily harm to animals by mistreating or abandoning them.

It also makes clear animal cruelty includes leaving an animal confined in a vehicle, if the animal is injured or dies as a result.

That bill passed 61-6.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.