SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – The latest on public safety reforms pending in the New Mexico Legislature (all times local):
The Senate has approved legislation that would increase prison sentences for manufacturing, distributing and possessing child pornography, with a unanimous vote that sends a heavily redrafted version of the bill back to the House.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes and backed by Attorney General Hector Balderas originally aimed to allow prosecutors to bring individual charges against suspects in child porngoraphy cases for each image distributed or in their possession.
The Senate changed the legislation, striking language that would allow the charges for each image and instead creating a new sentencing structure that hands down stricter sentencing terms for child pornography crimes.
Another Senate amendment says teens caught sexting wouldn’t be prosecuted under the legislation.
Attorney General Hector Balderas withdrew his support of the legislation as amended over the teen sexting exemption.
The $6.2 billion state budget headed to the governor’s desk includes a $1.2 million appropriation to clear a backlog of evidence kits from sexual assaults and rapes.
The money that could fund crime lab staff and DNA evidence analysis would be appropriated to the Department of Public Safety.
The House approved Senate changes to the budget late Wednesday, sending the spending bill to Gov. Susana Martinez. She added addressing the rape kit backlog to her public safety budget priorities in January.
DNA evidence for the kits can include a piece of hair or swabbing from a victim’s body. The kits can help investigators solve a crime or possibly link a solved case to other crimes.
State officials told lawmakers before the session that an estimated 5,000 rape kits were untested in the state’s warehouses and crime labs.
A bi-partisan measure to authorize a more robust criminal database for courts and law enforcement officers to access has cleared a final vote in the Senate.
The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday calling for the database in the state’s Department of Public Safety Act.
The measure was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and Republican Rep. Nate Gentry. Both lawmakers are from Albuquerque.
The bill also requires the courts administrators and others to report judgements and verdicts relating to a defendant’s eligibility to possess a firearm to the FBI, which enters the information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
A proposal to reform the state’s bail bond system will go before voters in November after the Senate moved to approve the constitutional amendment.
Sen. Peter Wirth’s proposal passed the Senate unanimously with no debate Thursday, the second to last day of this year’s legislative session in Santa Fe.
The measure had cleared the House earlier this week.
The proposal would change the state’s constitution to allow judges to deny bail to defendants deemed a danger to the public.
It also grants cash-strapped, non-violent defendants pre-trial release if they file a motion approved by a judge that shows they cannot make bail, and the defendant is not considered a flight risk.
Voters must approve the constitutional amendment for it to become law.
The fate of some anti-crime bills is in question as the legislative session comes to a close.
Senate Democrats are raising concerns over proposals that could cost the state millions of dollars in added incarceration costs.
Some two dozen bills aimed at increasing prison sentences for violent career criminals and repeat DWI offenders were up for debate at the start of this year’s 30-day legislation in Santa Fe that ends Thursday.
Most were proposed by House Republicans and sailed through that chamber, but have since stalled or died in Senate committees.
However, several pieces of legislation introduced in response to high-profile crimes and court rulings last year appear to remain in play as they await one more hearing or a floor vote. One would expand the three-strikes law that makes repeat violent offenders eligible for life sentences.