February 15, 2018

Lawmakers send omnibus crime bill to governor’s desk

Photo Credit: eviloars cc

New Mexico legislators rolled five different crime bills into one, then sent the measure to the governor Wednesday in what they called a bipartisan move to make communities and prisons safer.

State senators approved the plan, House Bill 19, on a vote of 32-2. The measure already had cleared the House of Representatives on a 66-1 vote.

Now the bill moves to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Martinez herself pushed a number of crime bills during the 30-day legislative session, including an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the death penalty.

The omnibus crime bill approved by the House and Senate is a collection of lower-profile initiatives.

One part of the bill, initiated by House Minority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, would increase penalties for convicted felons who possess a firearm.

Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, voted for the bill, but said it would do no good unless prosecutors pursue these cases. Muñoz said neither state nor federal prosecutors did an adequate job when a felon in his community shot two dogs and possessed some 70 firearms.

Another part of the bill focuses on helping jails and prisons screen inmates for health problems and signing up eligible prisoners for Medicaid before they are released. The bipartisan measure is aimed at reducing the number of repeat criminals.

The third component would provide bonuses for longtime police officers in hopes of keeping them on the force.

Yet another element would add two requirements before people convicted of certain drunken-driving offenses could remove an ignition interlock device or qualify for a driver’s license.

The final section of the bill would reduce penalties for various nonviolent crimes, a move to ease the strain on courts.

Legislators often have argued against such sweeping bills. They said having many different proposals in one bill could violate a provision in New Mexico law against logrolling, the term for lumping many measures under one law.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, raised the issue Wednesday of whether a crime bill with five different components was lawful.

Sharer said he recalled complaints about logrolling from one senator. Being sarcastic, Sharer said: “I don’t remember who that is exactly, but wow.”

The crime bill was being presented by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, often a stickler on proper procedure and technical flaws of bills.

But Sharer still voted for the omnibus bill.

The only senators who voted against were Greg Baca, R-Belen, and Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque.

Baca said the measure did not go far enough in combating serious crimes. He even attempted to amend the bill, but was so late with his idea that it was ruled out of order.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, called the bill “a small step” that would lessen but not solve the state’s crime problem.

Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080. Follow his Ringside Seat column in Monday’s and Friday’s editions.