February 9, 2023

Legislative Roundup

Matthew Reichbach

Days remaining in session: 36

Grieving families: Attorney General Raúl Torrez delivered a rousing speech Thursday at a memorial for the families of homicide victims in the Capitol rotunda.

Torrez asked the dozens of people attending the event to clap and cheer and make as much noise as possible “because the people in this building need to hear you and see you.”

He told the group he is “sick and damn tired” of coming to the Roundhouse to advocate for common-sense criminal reforms only to be told “nothing is wrong and nothing needs to be fixed.”

“What I have said over the last several years is if we do nothing about crime, if we do nothing to prevent the next homicide … then we have failed as public servants,” he said, generating applause. 

The memorial, an effort to educate the public and legislators about the impact of murder on victims’ families, included an exhibit with the pictures of multiple slain people surrounded by hundreds of gold fabricated butterflies.

“Each single butterfly on the exhibit and on all of the pictures that you see is a life taken due to homicide in New Mexico between 2015 and yesterday,” said victims rights advocate Nicole Chavez, whose 17-year-old son, Jaydon Chavez-Silver, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Albuquerque. “There are over 1,200 people who have died to murder in New Mexico” between 2015 and 2022.

Prescribed burns: The Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday to prohibit prescribed burns when a red flag warning has been issued by the National Weather Service.

“This bill sends an important message across the state,” said the sponsor of Senate Bill 21, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo. “These things need to be properly managed and taken care of. We’ve seen too many instances of prescribed burns being out of control, damaging our landscape, damaging our people.”

Passage of the bill comes after last year’s massive Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which the U.S. Forest Service ignited as two separate prescribed burns that blew out of control.

Lawmakers added an emergency clause to SB 21, which means it would be enacted right away if it’s signed into law.

Although the bill would prohibit prescribed burns on red flag days, it doesn’t include any fees or penalties for violations. It heads next to the House.

Parole for terminally ill: A terminally ill inmate over the age of 55 would be eligible for parole under a bill the Senate passed 27-9 Thursday.

“Senate Bill 29 provides that if you’re over 55 and you’re gonna die and you haven’t murdered anyone, then you can be released to spend your final days with your family,” said the sponsor, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque.

In addition to meeting the age requirement, an inmate would only be eligible for parole if they didn’t “constitute a danger to the person’s own self or to society at the time of review.”

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said his reading of the bill would allow three classifications of prisoners — geriatric, permanently incapacitated and terminally ill — to be eligible for early release. But O’Neill assured him it only applied to inmates who are on the verge of death.

“The bottom line is you can’t get out of prison if you’re old or tired or your back hurts or something like that,” he said.

Only inmates convicted of first-degree murder would be ineligible for release under the measure, which now heads to the House.

Veterans documentary: Members of the House Rural Development, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee started their day by unanimously approving House Bill 307, which provides a one-time appropriation of $100,000 to the Department of Finance and Administration to give to the Bernalillo Museum to develop the first phase of a documentary called Veteran Heroes of the American Southwest — Forgotten Stories from Forgotten Places.

Rep. Kathleen Cates, D-Rio Rancho, said the documentary would be an oral history project in which New Mexico’s veterans tell their stories.

Several members of the committee said they have relatives who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“These stories are very, very important; these stories need to be recorded,” said Rep. Luis Terrazas, R-Santa Clara. 

Rep. Kristina Ortez,D-Taos, agreed. “It is our history, and our history must be shared so we learn from it,” she said.

Cates, one of several sponsors of the bill, said HB 307 next goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for consideration.

Governor to join council: President Joe Biden’s administration announced in a news release Thursday Biden’s plan to appoint Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to his Council of Governors, a bipartisan group of 10 governors focused on improving state and national responses to security threats. 

“Preparation and planning are the keys to saving lives and property in every crisis from historic wildfires and major weather events to threats against critical infrastructure, protecting our electrical grid and hardening our technological defenses against cyber attacks,” Lujan Grisham said in the news release.

“Working together, as governors from both parties, we can and we will improve our preparedness and make our nation more secure.

Quote of the day: “I got the chair’s finger, so I know she doesn’t want to go through this line by line. It wasn’t that finger. It was a different finger.” — Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, after raising concerns about a bill he said would need to be largely rewritten.