February 11, 2016

DWI bills advance from Senate committee

A Senate committee passed two bills that would increase DWI penalties on Wednesday evening.

One bill is sponsored by both Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, and Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque. The other is sponsored by Maestas Barnes and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington. Maestas Barnes and Munoz presented both of their bills to the Senate Judiciary Committee together.iStock_000002715910_Large

Both bills passed on bipartisan votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Each bill would increase penalties for the fourth through seventh offenses and create a second degree felony for the eighth offense.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, criticized the bill for creating mandatory sentences and taking away judicial discretion. He also criticized past and present legislators and governors for not doing more to fund treatment options.

“I blame the Legislature for part of this issue,” Sanchez said, but went on to say that Gov. Susana Martinez and her four predecessors had a hand in not adequately funding substance abuse treatment options.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, also criticized the bill and he would like to see local governments taking the initiative to use taxes to fund treatment facilities.

“The two things I think we are going to need now are local option and interlock funding,” McSorley said.

The local option McSorley referred to was an effort pushed by the late Eddie Munoz, George Munoz’s father and a former mayor of Gallup. The elder Munoz advocated for a local tax to help subsidize alcohol treatment and stricter liquor laws. Eddie Munoz also led a march from Gallup to Santa Fe to lobby for alcohol reform. McSorley praised Eddie Munoz’s efforts and said he thought the state needed another grassroots campaign to lower DWI rates in the state.

Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, ultimately supported the bills, but said there were parts she was not happy with. Torraco, an advocate for criminal justice reform and a criminal defense attorney, said she wouldn’t mind if she ran out out of DWI clients.

“As a legislator, I want to work myself out of a living,” Torraco said of her job as a lawyer.

The committee passed the Senate bill from Maestas Barnes and Munoz on a 6-3 vote. After one member left the committee room, the group voted 6-2 to pass Maestas Barnes’ House bill.

Both bills now head to the Senate Finance Committee.