The House voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s three strikes law to include more crimes to count towards the penalty that would result in life in prison after nearly three hours of debate. Three criminal convictions on certain crime would result in a life sentence if this bill becomes law. The bill, which passed the House 49-14, would need to pass the Senate in identical form to make it to the governor’s desk. The Senate did not pass a similar bill during the regular session. The House amended the bill to remove some crimes that were included in the bill as originally introduced.
A House committee spent about nine hours Friday from the early afternoon deep into the evening debating and listening to public testimony regarding three bills aimed at toughening violent crime sentences. All three bills passed the committee and two will head to the House floor next. The debate turned most heated when the committee discussed a bill to reinstate the death penalty. Sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, the bill focuses on those convicted of killing law enforcement officers or children. The legislation passed on a party-line vote.
Gov. Susana Martinez officially issued the proclamation for a special session, less than 24 hours before legislators are scheduled to gather to discuss a solution to the state’s large budget deficit and other issues Martinez placed on the call. In addition to filling the budget deficit, Martinez will allow legislators to discuss legislation to reinstate the death penalty for certain crimes, expand the state’s three strike law and life imprisonment for intentional child abuse resulting in the death of a child. Legislators can only discuss items Martinez puts on the call during a special session. The special session is necessary to deal with a nearly $600 million budget deficit from this year and a recently-completed budget year. Legislators and the governor are required by the state constitution to balance the budget each year.
The death penalty debate will be coming to the Legislature sooner than many expected. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday morning that she will add the death penalty to the call for the upcoming special session, adding a contentious piece of debate to a special session that already promised to hold heated debates over fixing the state’s massive budget deficit. Martinez still has not set a date for the special session. “I will ask the legislature to reinstate the death penalty as an option for those who murder children and police officers, as well as correctional officers,” Martinez wrote in a statement on Facebook. “Those horrific crimes deserve the ultimate punishment.”
After an emotional debate, three strikes legislation cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Saturday. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill adds a number of violent crime felonies to the state’s existing “three strikes” law, which mandates life imprisonment for people who are convicted three times of certain felonies. The bill is known as “Lilly’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot and killed last fall during a road rage incident in Albuquerque. Lilly’s parents, Alan and Veronica Garcia, acted as expert witnesses for the bill. Pacheco acknowledged that penalties in his bill bill aren’t “perfectly matched” to the person who killed Lilly Garcia, whose previous crimes would not fall under the current or Pacheco’s expanded three strikes law.
During a Senate floor session, a Democratic lawmaker read a statement by former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, criticizing a proposed three strikes bill. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, took a moment to read the statement on the Senate floor. Johnson, who is seeking a presidential nomination as a Libertarian, told NM Political Report the piece was intended as an editorial for the Albuquerque Journal.Wirth said Johnson sent it to the Senate to be read on aloud on the floor. Johnson wrote specifically about a House bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, that would expand the scope of the already-existing three strikes law. While Johnson specifically addressed Pacheco’s bill, he also wrote about the national trend of leaning toward more judicial discretion.
—In an apparent protest to a memorial highlighting fair pay for women, two House Republicans left the floor during a vote on the legislation. Memorials do not enact any law, but are generally used to draw attention to a person or organization. House Memorial 39, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, declared today Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Day in honor of Lilly Ledbetter, a women’s equality activist and namesake of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. After Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, introduced the memorial in Chasey’s absence, Armstrong requested the House vote unanimously on the memorial, a common occurrence for this type of legislation. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, objected to voting unanimously and requested a roll-call vote, most likely to show who did or did not vote.
After a lengthy debate, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill in a party-line vote aimed at expanding New Mexico’s current three strikes law. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the panel that he spent time in drafting the bill and making sure it wouldn’t present similar problems as similar laws did in other states. He acknowledged that his bill was not a universal fix to the ongoing crime problem in New Mexico, but that it is a start. “I know this is not a silver bullet,” Pacheco told the committee. But, he said, “It’s one step in a larger group of things we have to address.”
Pacheco pointed out to the committee that no one has ever been charged or convicted under the current three strikes law.
Some lawmakers are raising questions about a House Republican placing the family of a high profile crime victim at the center of his bill. But the sponsor of the bill aimed at toughening the state’s three strikes law denies he is being anything but genuine. “I did not solicit them to testify,” state Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said. “They have been active ever since those incidents occurred.”
During a House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee meeting last week, Pacheco presented his three strikes legislation and presented Alan and Veronica Garcia, the parents of Lilly, a four-year-old who was shot and killed after a road rage incident. Some Republican legislators are calling the bill “Lilly’s Law.”
Tony Torrez, the man charged with killing Lilly, has a criminal past, but was never convicted of a violent offense that would have applied to either the state’s current three strikes law or the expanded list of crimes in Pacheco’s proposed expansion of that law.
A high profile bill aimed at expanding New Mexico’s three strikes law passed through its first committee Thursday on party lines. The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee passed HB 56 4-3. The sponsor of HB 56, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the panel that he was inspired to introduce legislation after a string of violent crimes in Albuquerque last summer. He said he saw it as his duty as a lawmaker to address the issue of repeat offenders. “We are sent here by our constituents first and foremost to protect the citizens of the state of New Mexico,” Pacheco said.