With less than two weeks to go before the beginning of the 2017 state legislative session, four lawmakers have already filed bills on a controversial reoccurring topic—guns. One bill from two prominent Democratic senators seeks to mandate background checks on gun owners who transfer firearms between each other. That bill, filed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and longtime Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, would exempt background checks for gun transfers between family members, licensed gun dealers and law enforcement officers and agencies. Opponents of the current process often call it the “gun show loophole,” since some of these background check-free firearm transfers occur at gun shows. State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, has also prefiled a similar bill in the state House of Representatives.
After Senate passage last week, a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the bail process in New Mexico cleared its first House committee Monday afternoon. The bill would allow general election voters this fall to weigh in on allowing a judge to deny bail to defendants deemed dangerous to society. Under the amendment, defendants who don’t present a danger to society could not be held if the only thing keeping them in jail was a lack of money
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 7-2, with Reps. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, casting to only dissenting votes. The bill has support from criminal defense attorney organizations, public defender offices, civil liberty groups and city and county organizations.
The Senate passed what may become one of the landmark pieces of this legislative session, passing a proposed constitutional amendment that would remake the bail process in New Mexico in two major ways. The Senate passed the bill 29-9, with all Democrats voting for the proposal except for two who did not vote. Several Republicans joined with the Democrats to vote for the proposal. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the legislation and said that there are two components that the proposal attempts to fix. “The first is under the current law, judges only in very limited circumstances have the ability to hold a dangerous defendant pre-trial without granting bail,” Wirth says.
Two competing proposals for reforming New Mexico’s bail process moved forward on Monday, setting up an inevitable clash as they move towards the floors of the House and Senate. The Senate version has two components: It would allow judges to deny release of those awaiting trial if they are deemed a danger to the public and it would allow judges to not impose bond if the only thing keeping someone accused of a non-violent crime in jail is a lack of ability to pay bond. The House version only has the first part, on allowing judges to keep those deemed dangerous in jail until trial. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, presented his version along with New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. Wirth said the legislation was “narrowed dramatically” since he started the vetting process through interim committees last year.
One of the few pieces of legislation dealing with what supporters call social justice moved forward today in the Senate Rules Committee, the first step in a long process that supporters hope ends with voters approving the proposal. The proposal would reform New Mexico’s bond system in two ways; it would allow judges to deny bond to those who are deemed the person is a danger to the community and it would allow judges to waive bond if the imposition of bond is the only thing keeping that person in jail until trial. The legislation passed on an 9-1 vote. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels has been a high profile supporter of the amendment. He said that both pieces of the legislation are important and need to be included.