DPS head named to federal judgeship

New Mexico will have to find a new Department of Public Safety head. Gov. Susana Martinez announced on Friday that DPS Secretary Greg Fouratt was named to a federal judgeship. He will take a post as United States Federal Magistrate Judge in Las Cruces at the end of the month. “Secretary Fouratt is a leader who puts New Mexico first, and I am proud of the work he has accomplished during his time in my administration,” Governor Martinez said in a statement. “While we are sad to see him go, we know that he will continue to do the people’s work and make our state proud.”

“For the last two years, it has been a profound privilege for me to serve alongside the 1,150 men and women in DPS who work diligently each day to do their part to make all New Mexicans safe.

Session Recap: Driver’s license bill (finally) passes

It took six legislative sessions, but the Legislature finally sent a bill to the governor related to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The compromise legislation ended up being closer to the version that passed the Senate late in the 2015 session than the versions that passed the House in the previous years. The bill allows those who are in the country illegally to get a driver’s authorization card, which would not be compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Those who can prove they are in the country legally could choose to either have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or the driver’s authorization card. This is the first in a series of stories looking back at the key things that passed or failed during the 2016 legislative session.

Senate committee says no to allowing youth curfews

A bill that would let cities and municipalities impose limited youth curfews failed in a Senate committee Tuesday evening. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the legislation on a 6-4 vote, with bipartisan votes on both sides of the issue. “This in no way mandates a statewide curfew,” House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, the sponsor of the legislation, said in describing the bill. Instead, it would only allow cities and municipalities to impose curfews that only were from midnight to 5:00 a.m. and even then had a number of exceptions. The Albuquerque Republican said that he was brought the idea by Albuquerque city councilor Ken Sanchez.

Senate version of bail reform advances

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.

Driver’s license bill advances after emotional hearing

Emotional testimony and talk about heated rhetoric preceded a unanimous vote Friday in the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill to put New Mexico in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act on. Lawmakers crowded the table where sponsors sit while presenting legislation, with Senate sponsors John Arthur Smith, D-Deming and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, crowded next to House sponsors Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch and Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque. State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla also sat at the table. The committee commended Smith and Ingle for working on a compromise bill separate from the House bill that cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee after extensive changes. “The big, fundamental difference when you really get down to it [is] the ability to opt out of REAL ID,” Smith told NM Political Report after the hearing.

Dueling bail reform amendments advance

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.

‘Three Strikes Law’ expansion passes first committee on party line vote

A high profile bill aimed at expanding New Mexico’s three strikes law passed through its first committee Thursday on party lines. The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee passed HB 56 4-3. The sponsor of HB 56, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the panel that he was inspired to introduce legislation after a string of violent crimes in Albuquerque last summer. He said he saw it as his duty as a lawmaker to address the issue of repeat offenders. “We are sent here by our constituents first and foremost to protect the citizens of the state of New Mexico,” Pacheco said.

State Auditor announces actual number of backlogged rape kits

New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller announced on Friday morning that his office determined how many rape kits that are sitting untested around the state. In a press release, Keller said his office worked with the Department of Public Safety in concluding there are 5,406 untested Sexual Assault Evidence kits in New Mexico. “Bringing transparency to the backlog is a first step towards fixing this issue, which is critical to survivors and our public safety,” Keller said. Keller’s office said they worked with DPS in retrieving numbers from each respective law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. DPS requested the numbers and the Auditor’s office followed up with those agencies that did not respond.

More money, resources need for rape kit backlog

More money was the common solution given to an interim legislative committee on Monday. The legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee asked a panel of experts including the New Mexico State Auditor and the Department of Public Safety Secretary how the state can reduce the number of rape kits that are currently sitting untested in labs. John Krebsbach, a lab director of  the Albuquerque Police Department, told the committee he could sum up the solution to backlogged kits in one word. “Money,” Krebsbach said. There are more than 5,000 untested rape kits in the state.

Legislators told about NM’s high violent crime rate

New Mexico is the fourth worst state in America for violent crimes. Or maybe it’s the second. Both rankings were cited in testimony from Department of Public Safety Greg Fouratt in a Monday afternoon interim legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee hearing. The two numbers come from interpretations of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which measures eight different types of crimes in states on a yearly basis. The website 24/7 Wall St., for example, ranked New Mexico with the fourth-most violent crime per 100,000 based on 2012 data and second-most violent based on 2013 data.