Lawmakers talk solutions to “bail reform” constitutional amendment problem

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It has caused controversy and outrage on both sides. Some blame it for making a wave of catch and release criminals across New Mexico.

Now lawmakers are trying to figure out how they’ll address the voter-passed constitutional amendment on bail reform that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez wants to see repealed.

But while the Governor is asking for a repeal, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are saying that bail reform might best be addressed in part with increased funding to the state’s justice system.

The “bail reform” discussion came as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee’s meeting Friday at the Ladera Golf Course near Coors and I-40 in Albuquerque.

At Friday’s meeting, lawmakers made it clear they’re concerned about the effects of the bail reform constitutional amendment in New Mexico.

“The public is expecting something to be done,” said Albuquerque Senator Sander Rue, who co-chairs the subcommittee.

“We’re suggesting it needs to be fixed,” said Albuquerque Representative Moe Maestas, who also co-chairs the subcommittee.

Voters passed the amendment in 2016. The amendment allows judges to hold suspects without bond until trial if they are a danger to the public. It also was touted for a provision that guarantees suspects can’t be held in jail for the mere reason that they can’t afford to pay bond.

However, the amendment has also been criticized for what it’s caused in its wake. After the amendment passed, New Mexico’s state Supreme Court subsequently published new judicial rules interpreting the amendment.

Those rules have virtually eliminated bonds being set based on dollar figures. Instead, most judges are choosing to hold or release virtually all suspects based on their risk to the community. Many have been let out of jail either on their own recognizance or some level of pre-trial supervision.

Governor Martinez has blasted the constitutional amendment, saying it favors the release of repeat offenders and people arrested for violent crimes.

Meanwhile lawmakers at Friday’s subcommittee hearing saw things differently.

“Blaming the constitutional amendment simply is incorrect,” said Rep. Maestas.

Maestas, along with his co-chair Sen. Sander Rue aren’t calling for a repeal of the constitutional amendment.

“I think the constitutional amendment was fine, the problem is the system,” said Sen. Rue.

Both lawmakers believe looking at more funding for the justice system is a start towards addressing the effects of the constitutional amendment. Rue believes more money needs to go towards the state’s district attorney’s, also the public defenders and the courts.

“We have to find a way to get some resources to those people so they can get fully staffed and they can get to deal with some of these new initiatives and edicts and rules that are coming down to them,” said Sen. Rue.

“We get the criminal justice system we pay for and right now we’re not paying for a good criminal justice system,” said Rep. Maestas.

One of the proposals for raising more funds could include taxing all internet sales. However, the discussion is far from over and there’s not much time.

“In the short term is going to be difficult, you have a short session, a 30 day session, which it’s going to be difficult to deal with real comprehensive criminal justice reform,” said Sen. Rue.

They remain optimistic.

“I think we’ll find the political will, I think our friends from out of town understand it’s a state problem and we just need to talk to one and other,” said Rep. Maestas.

Lawmakers invited Governor Martinez to attend the meeting, but she declined the invitation, instead saying lawmakers needed to hear from, “victims, their families, police officers and district attorneys,” said to be “on the front lines” of what the Governor calls “devastating effects” of the constitutional amendment.

The Governor’s Office provided the following statement in response to Friday’s meeting:

“It’s perfectly clear what this amendment proposed and what it delivered are very different. That’s why legislators need to listen to those who are dealing with the consequences of this misleading amendment.”

–Governor Susana Martinez, Oct 27, 2017.

The New Mexico Legislature will go back to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe for a 30 day session beginning on January 16, 2018.

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