February 12, 2016

Hate crimes against law enforcement bill dies

A House bill that would add first responders and law enforcement officers to the state’s Hate Crime statute died in a Senate committee on Friday.Blue Lights

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted against passing the bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, along party lines.

A majority of public support came from law enforcement officers representing six different counties as well as New Mexico State Police. Also among supporters were Rev. Holly Beaumont of Interfaith Worker Justice and Julie Benner, the widow of slain officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner.

Those who opposed the bill said adding officers to the hate crime act would dilute the law already in place. Suki Halevi, New Mexico Director of the Anti-Defamation League said the bill “confuses the purpose” of the hate crime act.

Democratic committee members generally held the stance that adding law enforcement to the law would not be effective.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she there is already laws aimed at protecting officers with enhanced penalties.

“I personally don’t think adding law enforcement into hate crimes does much,” Stewart said.

Gentry argued that officers face dangerous discrimination even while not in uniform.

“Those enhancements apply to officers who are on the job,” Gentry said.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he understood the intention of the law, but that a change to current penalties for crimes against officers would be a better route. He said trying to prove an attack on officer is a hate crime would put an unnecessary amount of pressure on local district attorneys.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who eventually voted for the bill, shared Candelaria’s concerns. She said she was asked by a district attorney in her district to try and remove the age element from the hate crime act due to difficulty proving intent.

“I don’t oppose this but I think it’s going to be difficult to get what you want,” Kernan said.

Committee Chair Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said he also saw the addition of law enforcement officers as unnecessary. Responding to stories of officers killed while off duty in the state of Washington , Ortiz y Pino said punishment under the hate crime act probably wouldn’t have done much.

“If murder charges were enough to deter that, a hate crime won’t deter it either,” Ortiz y Pino said.