October 3, 2016

Effort to bring back death penalty advances

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

A bill aimed at bringing back the death penalty in New Mexico passed the House Appropriations and Finance committee along party lines after five hours of scrutiny from skeptical Democratic lawmakers.

Missing on Monday evening, when compared to a previous committee hearing on the subject,was the emotional and tearful testimony from families of victims of criminals.

The House Appropriations and Committee’s contentious tone started from the very beginning when Chairman Larry Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, encouraged panel members to only speak about the fiscal aspects of the bill.

Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, called the request “inappropriate.”

“I’m going to call this for what it is,” Steinborn said. “A farce.”

The committee amended the bill to change controversial language, including removing the word “retarded” from the bill.

In addressing the committee the bill’s sponsor Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, stressed that the death penalty would be a tool for prosecutors and not a requirement. She also took issue with the fiscal impact report and it’s accuracy, specifically the number of inmates that would qualify for the death penalty.

“The FIR estimated 14 death penalty cases would go to trial,” Youngblood said. “That in itself is a gross overstatement based on New Mexico history.”

Youngblood said based on her calculations, only four people since the late 1970s would have qualified for the death penalty if her bill were law. Youngblood’s bill would would focus on those who are convicted of killing police or corrections officers and children.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, took issue with Youngblood calling the FIR “irrelevant” and came to the defense of legislative analysts.

“Irrelevant means I need to throw it out and not consider the actual costs,” Garcia Richard said.

Youngblood and her expert witnesses maintained throughout the hearing that reinstating the death penalty would show little to no increased costs for the state.

“I hate that we’re talking about money,” Youngblood said.

Democrats remained critical of the state’s current budget crisis.

“This is not budgeted,” Steinborn said. “It’s not prudent from a financial standpoint.”

The bill heads to the House floor next, although the next floor session for the chamber is not scheduled until Wednesday morning.