Bill to remove barriers to STI testing clears first House committee

A bill to eliminate copays, cost sharing and deductibles to remove barriers to sexually transmitted infection testing passed the House Health and Human Services Committee 7-3. Bill cosponsor state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said that if SB 132 is enacted, it will help reduce the rising number of STIs in the state by removing barriers to testing. The STI Prevention and Treatment Act would enable individuals to be more likely to get tested and treated, which becomes a preventive measure since most STIs do not exhibit symptoms but can lead to later issues such as infertility. 

State Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she could not support the bill because it wasn’t fair to cancer patients, individuals with dementia and individuals living with AIDS. 

State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, asked if the bill would enable School-Based Health Centers to offer STI testing and treatment. 

Expert witness Kayla Herring, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the bill does not mandate that and that School-Based Health Centers are “handled at the individual school level.”

The bill heads next to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

A bill to end life without parole for juveniles advances

A bill to end life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4-to-2 party line vote Tuesday. SB 64, No Life Sentence for Juveniles, is sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who said the New Mexico Supreme Court has been asking the Legislature to “do something about this since 2009.”

The bill will, if enacted, retroactively impact adults who are already serving long sentences because of crimes committed as juveniles, as well as juveniles sentenced as adults going forward. Currently, there is no one in New Mexico serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed while a minor, but it would end the sentence as an option, Sedillo Lopez said. State Sen. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor on the bill, said “this is not a get out of jail free card.”

Incarcerated individuals serving time for crimes committed as juveniles ages 14 to 17 can be eligible for parole at 15 years, 20 years or 25 years. State Sen. Bill O’Neill, also a co-sponsor, said that the parole boards take public safety in mind, as well as the victims, when determining if an incarcerated individual is eligible for parole.  Incarcerated individuals who commit first degree murder other than a felony murder, parole eligibility comes at 20 years.

Bill gives law enforcement more tools to combat human trafficking

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

After hearing sometimes raw testimony from victims of human trafficking, members of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee unanimously voted Wednesday in support of a bill that would enact tougher penalties for the crime. House Bill 445 also would broaden the definition of human trafficking and require those convicted of the crime to register as sex offenders in the state. In cases in which the trafficking victim is an undercover cop, the bill would prevent suspected offenders from using that as part of their defense to claim they were entrapped. 

The bill’s fiscal impact report says under current law, people convicted of sex offenses in other states who move to New Mexico do not have to register as a sex offender. HB 445 “closes a loophole” by requiring them to register, the report says. Mark Probasco, deputy director for prosecution for the state Attorney General’s Office, told committee members human trafficking equates to “modern-day slavery,” with roots in the crime dating back to the state’s slave-trading days. 

Committee members voted 5-0 Thursday to move the bill forward to the House Judiciary Committee after listening to several people talk about their experiences as victims of sex trafficking. 

Most, including a 9-year-old boy who testified, did not give their full names. 

One victim who testified, Suetana Jackscon, held back tears as she described how she felt after learning her trafficker had served a short sentence and was back on the streets to possibly prey on others. 

“There is not a day or moment that goes by that this has not affected my life,” she said, adding she often looks over her shoulder for fear “he will come after me.”

‘Second chance’ passes House committee on narrow vote

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee passed a bill on a party line vote that would prohibit life without parole for children in New Mexico on Thursday. The members passed the bill on a 3 to 2 vote. SB 43 would end the sentencing possibility of life without parole for a child and allow a parole board to decide if a child convicted of serious offenses could be released on probation or parole after 15 years. State Sen. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, tried to amend the bill so that a parole board hearing could not happen before the inmate reached 20 years of prison time. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said this was not in the spirit of the bill.

Bill to end new contracts on private prisons passes House committee

A bill to impose a moratorium on new contracts for private prison facilities passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee 3 to 2. Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and a co-sponsor of HB 352, described it as “a newer version” of HB 40, which stalled at the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier this session. HB 352 would create a task force made up of 17 stakeholders, including the state Department of Corrections and other agency representatives, to analyze phasing out private prisons. HB 40 would have ended private prisons within 3 to 5 years in New Mexico. HB 352 is a more “narrow” approach, advocates said.

House committee delays vote on bill to expand state’s ‘red flag’ law

Opponents of a gun control bill that would expand a controversial new law in New Mexico argue the measure would give police too much power — enough to seize their firearms even if they have committed no crime. 

About 15 people testified Thursday against House Bill 193, which would amend New Mexico’s Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act by adding law enforcement officers to the list of people who could seek a court order to temporarily take firearms from a person considered a threat. Under current law, police officers can only seek a court order if it is requested by a family member, a school official, an employer or someone who has had a “continuing personal relationship” with a person considered a threat to themselves or others. The new legislation would allow an officer to seek a court order based on his or her own observations. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee allowed public testimony on the proposal but postponed a vote on whether to endorse it until the panel’s next hearing, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Few issues stir emotions as much as gun control.

‘Red flag’ bill only gets one committee assignment in House

This year’s high-profile firearms legislation will be heard by a House panel Tuesday, but it won’t be the Judiciary Committee. The controversial Senate Bill 5, which allows law enforcement to petition a court to take away a person’s firearms if they are found to pose a threat, will instead be heard by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. It’s a decision that had House Republicans sharply criticizing the Democratic majority Monday. “I think they’re just trying to force it through,” said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. “Any time you have a bill that’s so charged and has been amended five or six times, it deserves to be looked at by the Judiciary Committee in the opposing house.”

The Senate passed the legislation by a narrow margin Friday, and on Monday House Speaker Brian Egolf assigned it to be heard in the public affairs committee before it would proceed to a floor vote. The bill, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, would allow someone’s firearms to be confiscated for 10 days, an order that could be extended to one year.

Bill to license massage therapy businesses aimed to stop ‘nefarious’ activities

A bill that looks innocuous – requiring massage parlor establishments to be licensed – could have big consequences. Although no one knows how many massage parlors are legitimate and how many are not, the ones that are not often serve as fronts for human trafficking, say authorities and sexual assault advocates. The New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department estimates there are about 8,200 massage therapists in the state and there could be as many as 1,500 establishments that would need to apply for licensure if the bill passes. Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, is sponsoring HB 155. “We recognize there are thousands of fabulous massage therapists all over the state, but there are a few that are not in the business for massage therapy,” Trujillo told NM Political Report.

Bill to raise penalty for school threats blocked

The divide over how best to punish those who threaten to commit violence in schools widened Thursday, as a panel of Democrats blocked a bill to make the crime a fourth-degree felony. Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, said he introduced House Bill 115 to create a specific crime for leveling terrorist threats at a school or other public building. He said it would be a means of deterring juveniles and adults alike from feeling emboldened in targeting schools. Democrats countered that his bill was so broad it could turn teens who do something stupid into felons for life. More important, a legislative staff analysis of Crowder’s proposal found that the state already has other laws that can be used to prosecute people who make threats.

Parental notification bill fails in House committee

Two hours of emotional testimony from New Mexicans on both sides of the abortion debate did not seem to change anyone’s mind at the Legislature on Saturday, as a House committee voted along party lines to block a bill that would have required abortion providers to notify parents before their child undergoes the procedure. The Republican sponsors behind House Bill 56 said the measure was a simple step to ensure minors make informed decisions with their parents before getting an abortion. But critics countered that the measure would hamper the rights of young women in making an intensely personal decision and delay care for patients. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee tabled the bill on a 3-2 vote, with Democrats on the prevailing side. The bill would have required abortion providers to contact a minor patient’s parent or guardian by a certified letter delivered via courier at least 48 hours before their child undergoes the procedure.