The issue of teen curfews set up a firestorm of back and forth between supporters and opponents of a bill addressing the issue Monday afternoon.
House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, presented a bill that would allow municipalities and counties to set their own curfew rules for minors. During his presentation to the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, Gentry said that the bill would not have major impact, saying that the term “curfew” is “a bit misleading.”
“All this bill does is during school hours and from midnight until five, law enforcement can contact minors,” he said.
Gentry said the bill defines minors as people who are 16 years old and under.
Still, the bill drew opposition from many, including some fellow lawmakers in committee. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, argued that the bill would “increase the fear factor” and perpetuate “selective enforcement” against people of color through racial profiling.
Institutional racism, she said, is alive and well.
“I’m a person of color,” Roybal Caballero said. “I’ve been profiled by the police and I’ve been profiled by the border patrol.”
She continues to be subject to profiling in Santa Fe, she said, mentioning how she went into a restaurant to eat and was told that they weren’t hiring.
“These are the issues you need to be respectful of,” she told Gentry.
Roybal Caballero and members of community groups like Young Women United and the Southwest Organizing Project argued that preventing youth delinquency would be better addressed by earmarking money to youth organizations and projects.
Bill Jordan, senior policy advisor for New Mexico Voices for Children, brought up education funding that had been proportionately cut since the recession of last decade.
“We no longer fully fund afterschool programs,” Jordan said. “We’ve really balanced the budget on the back of our kids.”
Those who testified in support of the bill included representatives from the business community and members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
“When a police officer sees a young 14-year-old in public past midnight, he can approach that child and make sure that child is safe,” said Amy Orlando, general counsel with the state Department of Public Safety. “They can follow the need of family and services.”
Jack Bent, a business liaison with the New Mexico Business Coalition, spoke of how young people shouldn’t be out late because they need sleep.
“Young people need at least seven to eight hours a night to do good in school,” he said. “People who don’t get that don’t do good in school.”
Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, spoke of seeing a ”mob” of kids in a parking lot while he was driving in his city in the middle of the night.
“There had to be between 30 and 40 teenagers at this parking lot at three in the morning,” Wooley said. “They can’t be up to anything but trouble.”
The bill, which passed 4-3 on party lines, next goes to the House Judiciary Committee.