January 30, 2022

Three crime-related bills make it through committee

The House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee on Saturday approved three crime-reduction bills aimed in part at bolstering penalties, protecting judges and expanding access to grants.

Crime has been a key focus this session; Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier unveiled a series of proposals aimed at fighting it. Legislators in both parties have touted “tough-on-crime” measures amid mounting pressure.

House Bill 68, introduced by Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, would make it a fourth-degree felony to threaten injury, property damage or violence against another person or a school, home, business, vehicle or place of assembly.

“This bill seeks to close gaps in New Mexico law and allow for penalties to reflect the level of danger that they represent to the community or the level of harm suffered by victims,” she said.

The bill would make unlawful possession of a handgun a fourth-degree felony. Exceptions would include legal hunting; adult-supervised home use; traveling with an unloaded handgun; hunter safety courses; target shooting; and performing in sports competitions.

It would result in second-degree felony charges for possession or transportation of a firearm or destructive device by a felon or person convicted of battery or stalking, as well as second-degree felony charges for aggravated fleeing from law enforcement.

Lastly, the bill proposes additional prison time for possessing, brandishing and firing a firearm during a drug deal, burglary or violent offense.

A section of the bill pertaining to possession of a firearm near a school zone was removed by amendment.

Committee Chairwoman Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Reps. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, and Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque, voted in favor. Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, were opposed.

House Bill 99, introduced by Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, would make threatening a judge or a judge’s family member a fourth-degree felony and would include actions that create fear of great bodily harm for a judge or a judge’s family member, interrupt a judge’s job duties or retaliate against a judge’s rulings.

The legislation would also make malicious sharing of personal information relating to a judge or a judge’s family member a misdemeanor.

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil testified about recent incidents in which judges were threatened, including a judge’s wife and daughter being stalked, a judge’s car being fired upon and a 2018 Taos County Courthouse closure prompted by threats made after a ruling.

Vigil said there are no National Center for State Courts statistics on the numbers of threats made against state judges but said data from the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts show it received reports of five threats against courthouses and 10 threats against judges in 2021.

Second Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Leos said, “When judges are making decisions based on fear for the consequences of their decisions, we are eroding the very fabric of our democracy.”

The bill was unanimously voted out of committee.

House Bill 84, introduced by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, is aimed at expanding access to grants for members of a criminal justice coordinating council.

The bill is designed to funnel state funding to communities through 13 criminal justice coordinating councils. 

Grants could be used to expand alternatives to incarceration and opportunities for pre-prosecution diversion, improving pretrial service programs, and improving a law enforcement agency’s data sharing, among other things.

The crime reduction grant program would be overseen by a bipartisan commission.

The bill was unanimously voted out of committee.