The 2015 New Mexico Legislative Session was marked with partisan divides. Both Democrats and Republicans left the session pointing fingers and placing blame across the aisle. A rare exception to the lose-lose scenario was a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at reforming the state’s Forfeiture Act. HB 560, sponsored by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, addresses a national concern about police seizing money or property from individuals without the conviction of a crime. While the bill passed both the House and Senate without a single dissenting vote, some committee members wondered if asset forfeiture is a problem in New Mexico.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s rhetoric was unsparing during a press conference following the conclusion of a Legislative session that saw few of her top priorities reach her desk. She employed the word “killed” seven times in her opening statement, referring to the implosion of the statewide capital outlay proposal during the session’s final 48 hours. The failure of that funding measure constituted a “failure of leadership” on the part of Democrats, she said, particularly those in the Senate. “Look at their track-record throughout this session,” she told a throng of reporters. “Their leadership displayed rampant partisanship, some of the worst that I’ve seen, and constant gridlock, delays and feet-dragging.
A program that allowed local police departments to seize assets from those accused of crimes will now only apply to those who are convicted except for specific crimes, according to United States Attorney General Eric Holder. The Washington Post described the move as, “the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.” The practice received national attention following a Washington Post investigation and a piece in the New York Times among other outlets. The Washington Post investigation found that nearly $2.5 billion in assets had been seized without search warrants or indictments since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. The money would largely go to local law enforcement.