ByAndrew Oxford and Steve Terrell, Santa Fe New Mexican |
There were no threats of a government shutdown this time. Instead, a sort of political peace reigned as the 30-day legislative session ended Thursday with a $6.3 billion budget headed to the governor’s desk along with a bipartisan slate of crime legislation and pay raises for teachers and state police. The bombast and sense of crisis that marked the 2017 session seemed to evaporate as Gov. Susana Martinez sought to strike a conciliatory tone on her way out of office. But gone, too, were any major initiatives or innovative policy changes. With Martinez nearing the end of her term and the state’s financial outlook brightening but not totally sunny, the session ended anticlimactically, with lawmakers eager to avoid another partisan showdown as they also wait to see what direction the state’s economy — and the governor’s yet-to-be-elected successor — might take.
New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, and it is not coming back this year. A legislative committee on Saturday quashed a bill that would have reinstated capital punishment for the murders of children, police officers and correctional officers. The 3-2 party-line vote was no surprise, but it brought out some of the most visceral testimony yet of this year’s 30-day legislative session. The recently discovered death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia of Santa Fe County and stories of his tortured life loomed over the discussion. But so, too, did the story of a former lawmaker’s son who was wrongly accused of murder and locked in jail until his exoneration.
When Juan Melendez was on Florida’s death row for a murder conviction, his mother built an altar with a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by roses. She said five rosaries a day, asking for a miracle to exonerate him and bring him home safely. She also wrote Melendez a letter saying, “Have faith, put your trust in God and that miracle will happen. One day, you will be free.” It took 17 years, but the miracle happened.
A recently-released poll shows Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by double digits in New Mexico, up from a five percent lead last month in a survey from that same survey. Both results comes from ZiaPoll, a pollster based in New Mexico. ZiaPoll provided NM Political Report with the full results of a poll conducted on the final day of voter registration in New Mexico and a previous poll conducted two weeks earlier. The poll conducted on Oct. 11 shows 46 percent of likely voters in New Mexico backing Clinton compared to 36 percent who say they would vote for Trump.
For the first time in 20 years, the number of Texas executions will fall out of double digits this year. The seven men put to death this year are the fewest since 1996, when executions halted amid legal challenges to a new state law intended to hasten the death penalty appeals process, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Only one more execution is scheduled for 2016. “There is clearly a change going on in Texas,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Judges and appellate courts rescheduled or stopped executions 15 times for 11 people in 2016.
After a three hour debate before the sun rose on Thursday morning, the House voted to bring the death penalty back to New Mexico on a narrow vote. The 36-30 party-line vote came after emotional testimony and debate, largely from Democrats. The proposal now heads to the Senate, though it appears very unlikely that the chamber will take up the effort before the end of the special session. Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, introduced her bill by listing the five police officers who were killed while on duty in the last 18 months, then listing some of the children who were murdered in recent months. Her proposal would only apply, Youngblood said, “When a child is murdered, when a law enforcement officer is murdered or a corrections officer is murdered.”
The debate came after two hours of debate on an appeal by Democrats that the public was not given enough time ahead of time to be told the House would consider the bill.
The House spent the first hours of Thursday debating on whether or not they should debate a bill to bring back the death penalty in New Mexico. Shortly before 12:45 a.m., Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, sought to introduce a new calendar that had just one item: The death penalty bill. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, immediately objected and appealed the ruling of the chair. This led to a parade of Democrats criticizing Tripp’s ruling. The House finally voted to uphold Tripp’s ruling, on a party-line vote, at 2:45 a.m. on a party-line 35-32 vote.
A bill aimed at bringing back the death penalty in New Mexico passed the House Appropriations and Finance committee along party lines after five hours of scrutiny from skeptical Democratic lawmakers. Missing on Monday evening, when compared to a previous committee hearing on the subject,was the emotional and tearful testimony from families of victims of criminals. The House Appropriations and Committee’s contentious tone started from the very beginning when Chairman Larry Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, encouraged panel members to only speak about the fiscal aspects of the bill. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, called the request “inappropriate.”
“I’m going to call this for what it is,” Steinborn said. “A farce.”
The committee amended the bill to change controversial language, including removing the word “retarded” from the bill.
A new proposal from House Republican leaders to fix the state budget deficit would cut the same amount of money—$89.6 million—as the Senate Democratic leaders’ plan. But House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, emphasized different priorities in the House Republicans’ plan, which they presented to reporters Monday morning in a press conference. Namely, Republicans said their plan swaps cuts proposed in the Senate bill to K-12 education, the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Department of Public Safety and services for sexual assault victims in the state Department of Health budget for deeper cuts in higher education. House Republicans also emphasized that their proposal raises no taxes. “The last part is very important because New Mexicans cannot afford to pay more taxes,” Tripp told reporters while announcing the proposal.
A House committee spent about nine hours Friday from the early afternoon deep into the evening debating and listening to public testimony regarding three bills aimed at toughening violent crime sentences. All three bills passed the committee and two will head to the House floor next. The debate turned most heated when the committee discussed a bill to reinstate the death penalty. Sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, the bill focuses on those convicted of killing law enforcement officers or children. The legislation passed on a party-line vote.