January 13, 2016

A look at crime bills coming this year

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

Next week marks the beginning of this year’s legislative session. This is a short session which means the main focus will be on budgetary issues—along with what Gov. Susana Martinez deems important enough to be discussed.

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

If the legislation that has been prefiled is any indication, this session will also see a number of crime bills, both in reform and increased penalty efforts.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report that lawmakers need to to take a look at laws that can put an end to repeat offenders.

“What concerns me are those individuals who show a propensity to violence again and again,” Gentry said.

At least two of Gentry’s Republican colleagues in the House are taking measures to toughen laws regarding repeat offenders. Reps. Bill Rehm and Paul Pacheco, both Albuquerque Republicans, have pre-filed bills that would toughen the state’s ‘three strikes’ law. Both are former law enforcement officers.

Pacheco previously told reporters that recent shooting deaths of officers hit close to home for him. He later told an interim committee that he was very careful when drafting HB 56, which would add more crimes that are eligible under the current law. While New Mexico already has a ‘Three Strikes Law,’ no one has been charged under it since its inception in 1994.

Rehm’s HB 37 is similar with the added provision that an inmate who was charged under the ‘three strikes’ could be released on parole given the individual is at least 60 years old and spent at least 10 years incarcerated. Still, that parole would be “for the entirety of the person’s natural life.”

Gentry introduced a bill that would allow local governments around the state to implement a curfew for minors. In 1999, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that such a curfew in Albuquerque conflicted with state law. Since then, there were numerous attempts at passing a state law that would allow local jurisdictions to pass curfew ordinances.

HB 29 would not force a curfew across the state, but rather allow each city or county the option to impose a curfew for minors. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry already announced his support for the bill and expressed interest in a curfew in Albuquerque that he says would not interfere with personal rights.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, has been working on what is now SJR 1 for most of the year. The proposed constitutional amendment isn’t about increasing penalties, but rather aims to give judges the power to deny bail for some offenders who would still be a danger to the community or might be a flight risk, maybe because they have access to enough money to leave town and jump bail.

Since Wirth’s proposal would amend the state constitution, Gov. Susana Martinez would not need to approve it. Instead, voters of New Mexico would need to vote for it at the next general election—in this case, 2016.

Wirth told NM Political Report that went through an extensive vetting process before he finalized the legislation.

“The only opposition is coming from the bail industry themselves,” Wirth said.

SJR 1 also has a provision that would allow judges to waive bail for those arrested and charged with nonviolent offenses but are unable to pay bail.

Wirth said this could be a way to free up space in New Mexico jails as well.

“We are hurting individuals that are getting stuck in the jail system during pretrial that don’t need to be there,” Wirth said.

Wirth added that he has worked for a “balance” which ultimately lead to broad support.

Reps. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, and Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsored a bill that they say will toughen the state’s child pornography law. HB 65 would increase penalties for certain child pornography offenses as well as make each instance of exploitation of a child a separate offense.

Every session also sees perennial bills that lawmakers continually push for. Below are some of the usual suspects this year.

HB – 30: Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, introduced a bill to create penalties for anyone who electronically sends graphic images to a minor.

HB – 44: Rep. Bill Rehm is sponsoring a bill that would outline specifics for a legal limit when driving under the influence of certain drugs.

HB- 83: Almost every session sees an attempt to curb DWI fatalities by increasing penalties. This year, Maestas Barnes and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, filed a bill that would increase certain penalties and punishments.

SB – 45: Like last year, Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, filed a bill that would make driving with a minor while intoxicated a misdemeanor.