March 31, 2021

Gov. signs bill to eliminate fines for juvenile offenders

Laura Paskus

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will eliminate certain fines and fees for juvenile offenders, “aligning with the juvenile justice reform efforts of the Children, Youth and Families Department,” the Governor’s Office said in a news release.

Juveniles convicted of possession of marijuana will no longer be fined, but will face a modified penalty of up to 48 hours of community service. Previous fees could be as high as $100.

The bill also removes a nonrefundable “application fee” for a public defender to represent a juvenile charged with a crime. These fines and fees are “disproportionately painful” for low-income families, Lujan Grisham said in the statement.

“Nickel-and-diming New Mexico families doesn’t solve anything,” she continued. “On the contrary, it can create a vicious cycle of fee collection and license revocation, all of which serves only to entrap too many New Mexicans in the criminal justice system.”

The focus, she said, should be on the reduction of recidivism rates and providing more opportunities for youth.

Children, Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock praised the law change, stating it was “one more positive step forward in juvenile justice reform in New Mexico.”

“Fines and fees unfairly penalize economically disadvantaged families and are contrary to the rehabilitative purpose of our juvenile justice system,” Blalock said.

House Bill 183 passed both the House and Senate unanimously in the regular legislative session that ended March 20.

The governor vetoed House Bill 92, which would have raised a testing fee for public drinking water systems, saying in a veto message the fee was too onerous on New Mexicans trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic.