February 1, 2016

House says yes to allowing youth curfews

A high-profile bill that would allow municipalities to impose limited curfews on some minors passed the state House Monday evening.

Blue LightsThe bill passed 44-21.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill, saying it would help reduce crime and also protect youth in the cities.

Gentry said that it would not allow municipalities or counties to impose criminal penalties on those out past curfew.

He said it would allow municipalities to pass ordinances not beyond the limits in the state law, which would include curfew hours during school and between midnight and 5:00 a.m.

The bill would not impact those age sixteen or older and also had other exemptions.

Still, some Democrats expressed concerns over the proposal. No Republicans except Gentry spoke about the proposal in a debate that lasted more than an hour.

“What I fear is that sometimes there’s just a simple solution to the horrible tragedies that have occurred in Albuquerque,” Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said. “But I don’t find it that simple.”

Gentry referenced a 1997 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey, as he did in committee, 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.

In 2009, the City Mayors Society 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.”

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, spoke about the need for more than just this effort, including jobs.

“We’ve seen cutbacks in our youth programs and our community centers,” Garcia said. “We’ve seen community cents shut down. We’ve seen a cut-back in summer programs that provided jobs for our youth.”

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, mentioned another study, of Vernon, Connecticut. McCamley said curfew in that city increased crime when compared to other Connecticut cities. Crime actually decreased in Vernon, but not as much as other cities of similar size after a youth curfew went into effect.

“Public opinion shows overwhelming support for curfews, and even teenagers, who are subject to enforcement, favor curfew restrictions,” the study reads. “The primary basis for support is the conviction that curfews reduce crime and make the streets safer. However, research fails to support this hypothesis.”

McCamley said that instead of pushing for tough-on-crime laws, the Legislature should be focused on helping economic outcomes, saying that jobs are the best deterrent to crime.

Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, chided McCamley and told him to stay on debate of the bill. McCamley said we was speaking about keeping minors out of trouble.

“I really think it’s a sad day in this House when you, Mr. Speaker, think that it is wrong to speak about job creation to keep youth out of trouble,” Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, said later.

The bill passed with an emergency clause, which means that if it were to pass the Senate with two-thirds of that chamber and were signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez, it would go into effect immediately.

It will arrive in the Senate next, where it will likely face more scrutiny.

Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry, a former member of the House, has pushed for passage of a youth curfew.