New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Kurtis Ward scanned traffic, weaving his Ford Expedition through northbound traffic on Interstate 25. It was 8:37pm on a wintry Friday night. A full moon was cresting the Sandias.
The workday of the DWI Unit had just begun.
“I watch for that car that’s doing something that’s different,” he said. “The one that stands out: I want to watch that car.”
For a generation, the state has spent tens of millions of dollars a year to curb intoxicated driving and its toll on New Mexicans. In-school programs and public information campaigns advertise the legal and physical consequences intoxicated drivers risk.
A Senate bill that would increase DWI penalties passed its last stop early Wednesday morning before heading to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for a signature. The almost hour long debate on the House floor consisted of one Democrat arguing against increased penalties that are inconsistent with other statutes. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the bill was aimed at punishment when it should be aimed at preventative measures. “We can’t just throw numbers out there and try to out do each other and think we’re going to change anything,” Maestas said. A common theme this legislative session is cracking down on crime through increased penalties.
A Senate committee passed two bills that would increase DWI penalties on Wednesday evening. One bill is sponsored by both Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, and Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque. The other is sponsored by Maestas Barnes and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington. Maestas Barnes and Munoz presented both of their bills to the Senate Judiciary Committee together. Both bills passed on bipartisan votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Dueling philosophies between lawmakers on how to solve that state’s problem with drunk driving peppered debate in a House committee Thursday afternoon. Lawmakers in the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee heard three bills to add penalties to DWIs, all of which passed on mostly partisan grounds. Two of the bills, in fact, were called “Increase Certain DWI Penalties.”
One makes driving a car with a revoked driver’s license a fourth degree felony while punishing those who knowingly allow people with revoked licenses drive their cars. Another increases penalties for the fourth DWI by a year and ups someone’s eighth DWI from a third degree felony to a second degree felony. The third bill seeks to add DWI sentences to state habitual offender laws.