January 27, 2016

Two Democrats help send teen curfew bill to House floor

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

A bill to allow local governments to impose curfews on minors jumped through its second House committee, this time with some Democratic support.

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, joined with seven Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee to vote yes on the bill. Maestas had been previously public about his support.

“I’m stuck on this one,” Maestas said at committee. “I lean towards local control.”

The bill allows cities and counties to set up their own curfews for minors under 16 years of age. Current state law prevents local governments from being able to do that.

Any potential local curfew law would be limited to during school hours and between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Police officers would then be allowed to approach any child 15 and under during those hours.

Egolf mentioned how as a teen he sometimes cut class during the day and asked House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque and sponsor of the bill whether compulsory school attendance laws already allow officers to approach minors during school hours. Gentry responded yes.

“I imagine seven years from now if my kids were stopped for getting a coke [during school hours] I’d be annoyed,” Egolf said. “But it it’s already the law, it’s already the law.”

Youth advocacy and civil rights groups still highly oppose the bill. Several opponents mentioned how the Albuquerque Police Department is short of officers and the state Children, Youth and Families Department is underfunded and overburdened with case files.

“We’re short enrollment of officers in Albuquerque, and now our solution is to come up with a curfew and scapegoat our young people when they haven’t been doing anything wrong,” Bill Jordan, senior policy advisor for New Mexico Voices for Children, told committee members. “There are already laws on the books where you can pick them up if they’re doing something wrong.”

Steve Allen of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico brought up how APD is under court ordered consent decree by the federal Department of Justice to reform after its own rash of unjustified shootings of civilians.

“There’s never a good time to pass a law like this,” Allen said. “But now is an especially bad time.”

And Equality New Mexico Executive Director Amber Royster voiced her opposition, mentioning the state’s high teen homeless rate and how an estimated 40 percent of them are LGBTQ.

“This bill would be disastrous for them,” Royster said.

Gentry, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Nambé, said he’s motivated by the “series of very troubling crimes throughout our state over the last year.” Gentry said he wants to address both the safety of the public and childhood safety.

Nicole Chavez, the mother of slain teen Jayden Chavez, spoke in favor of the bill.

“I am a mother of one teenager now and I believe any parent here agrees that their child does not need to be out in the street past midnight,” she said, “because there is nothing but trouble at that hour.”

Chavez also addressed concerns that curfews lead to racial profiling, mentioning that it can also affect her because she’s Hispanic.

“Sometimes we get profiled, unfortunately,” Chavez said. “But I would rather be safe than sorry.”

Others who spoke in support included representatives from the CYFD, the state Corrections Department and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Gentry cited a 1997 study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that found 93 percent of cities surveyed that had curfews considered them “helpful.” He also cited a 2011 University of California at Berkeley study that found curfew laws help reduce property crimes committed by people under curfew age.

Yet the City Mayors Society in 2009 found that measuring the impact of curfew laws is difficult because of “several methodological problems.”

“Cities enact their curfews in different years; some in response to an outbreak of youth violence, others as a measure to prevent youth violence,” the study says. “This complicates the comparison of before-and-after crime rates between cities.”

The City Mayors Society study also says curfew laws may also have an effect on people who are older than curfew laws but appear younger. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, spoke to this point.

“When I first got here, they thought I was a page,” she said, referring to legislative intern positions taken by high school students.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, raised concerns about the measure but said she ended up voting yes. Among the aspects she had differences with was wording that the curfew would “regulate actions of children.” She also spoke about her 16-year-old son who, for a few years now, has biked in the middle of the day from a charter school to a college to take classes.

“I don’t really like law enforcement stopping children just because he’s out and about,” she said. “But I’m going to reluctantly vote for this bill.”

The bill next moves to the House floor for a full vote.