Bills to increase crime punishments stall, die during legislative session

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – More than 1,000 pieces of legislation were introduced during the 60-day legislative session, but only a few hundred made it to the governor’s desk. A good chunk of those bills that didn’t pass would have increased crime penalties.

From felon in a possession of a firearm, to killing a child over the age of 12, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — but predominantly Republicans — unsuccessfully tried to up the punishments for certain crimes in our state.

“I actually don’t recall a single criminal penalty enhancement bill that passed the legislature this session,” Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, said.

Law enforcement officer turned representative, Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, introduced a long list of crime-related legislation.

“I introduced legislation so that you have to be driving a stolen car, in a reckless manner, and if you kill someone it would be first degree murder,” he said, pointing to the recent death of an Albuquerque mom and daughter after a woman allegedly driving a stolen van hit them.

Gov. Susana Martinez also advocated for DWI bills before this session even started.

“We’re not going to stop fighting for this. We’re going to keep fighting for New Mexicans so they can drive on these roads safely,” she said in early January.

One of the governor’s ideas was sponsored by Rep. Maestas Barnes. The bill would have allowed police officers to video-conference into DWI license revocation hearings.

“Unfortunately, that bill, as well, didn’t make it through its first committee in the Senate,” Rep. Maestas Barnes said.

All of these ideas for crime enhancement bills, like three strikes, death penalty, homicide by reckless driving and teen curfews, ended up going nowhere.

Some weren’t heard because time ran out. Others were killed on a straight party-line vote. In a few cases, funding issues were raised.

“It is the community who’s demanding for us to make it safe for them,” Rep. Rehm said.

Whatever the case, Rehm and Maestas Barnes said it was clear these bills weren’t made a priority by the majority party this session.

“We need to look at job creation, we need to look at improving our schools, but we can’t forget about our communities and we need to ensure that they’re safe,” Rep. Maestas Barnes said.

Both hope that the governor will place crime bills on the agenda for the special session. However, the primary issue will undoubtedly be the budget for fiscal year 2018.

It’s unclear when the governor will formally call the special session or when it will take place. She would only say it will happen “soon.”

Special sessions come at an average cost of about $50,000 a day.

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