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C-Store Retailers Challenge Clerk Safety Rules

SANTA FE, N.M. -- The New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents several large oil and gas companies that run convenience stores, has asked the state Court of Appeals to declare unconstitutional regulations that require stores to have security cameras and to have two clerks working during late shifts or install bullet-resistant glass if a single clerk is on duty.

The association contends the state Environmental Improvement Board lacked the authority to enact the rules, which went into effect this year, and that the rules are too vague, according to the Associated Press.

Attorney Richard Minzner of Albuquerque, N.M., representing the petroleum marketers, said the Legislature did not give the board the authority to issue such regulations, and that efforts to pass such rules in the Legislature have failed.

State Environment Secretary Ron Curry said it's within the state's authority to issue worker safety regulations.

"These safety regulations have been in place for seven months now, and the industry has reported that their stores have already made the necessary upgrades to comply,'' Curry said. "We are very disappointed that some in the industry are continuing to fight these important, lifesaving guidelines.''

Minzner said the association's members have installed cameras and that he doesn't expect any of them to remove the cameras if the rules are struck down. However, he said stores could decide whether to continue to staff late shifts with two clerks.

The board enacted the regulations after the Environment Department, at the Legislature's request, studied violence at convenience stores.

The study, which collected information from several police departments and the state police, found 16 killings, 24 rapes, 37 abductions and thousands of other crimes committed at the stores from 1998 through April 2003.

Efforts to improve safety for clerks escalated after Elizabeth Garcia, a 26-year-old mother of three, was abducted from a convenience store in Hobbs, N.M., and killed in January 2002 while working alone. The store had no security camera.

Hobbs's interim police chief, Johnny Gonzales, supported safety rules in a letter to state officials last year.

"I believe that if these regulations had been in place before Elizabeth Garcia was abducted and brutally murdered, she would be alive today,'' he wrote.

Albuquerque lawyers Randi McGinn and Allegra Carpenter, who sued the Allsup's convenience store early this year on behalf of Garcia's estate, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appellate court, defending the state regulations on behalf of store clerks statewide.

"If government doesn't exist to make its citizens safe, why does it exist?'' Carpenter said.
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