Lawmakers urged to act on bill expanding state’s child abuse law

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – There’s a big push for lawmakers to take action on strengthening the penalties against child killers.

While the House made quick work of the measure to expand Baby Brianna’s law it now appears to have stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes (R-Albuquerque) has tried time and again to change the law so that anyone who kills a child through abuse faces a life sentence. While she was hopeful as it sailed through the House, there’s concern it won’t make it before time runs out.

“If we are not successful in passing the bill I hope that I don’t have to come back here next year and talk about another tragedy and say, ‘I really wish that the legislature had acted. I really wish they had enacted this bill and done more to ensure that this person responsible for that tragedy receives the fullest sentence under New Mexico law,” Maestas Barnes said.

One of those tragedies is the abuse and murder of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia of Nambe. Valencia’s accused killers face only 18 years in prison if convicted.

Under the original Baby Brianna Law, when someone is convicted of child abuse resulting in death in New Mexico, they can go away for life only if the child is under the age of 12.

Maestas Barnes says it’s not fair and that every child deserves equal justice.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the House last week and went to the Senate, but there it sits. It still hasn’t been heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it’s first stop in the Senate.

Tuesday, district attorneys, the State Police Chief and Secretary of the Children, Youth, and Families Department urged lawmakers to act.

“I am completely disgusted with the fact that this bill can’t get passed. It makes absolutely no sense to me that the legislative body won’t engage and pass a bill that essentially protects our children from predators,” State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said.

The group was flanked by foster parents and CYFD workers.

Maestas Barnes clearly got emotional when expressing her frustration with getting the bill through.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez of Espanola who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee for comment on why he hasn’t scheduled the bill to be heard, but did not hear back.

The also has to go through the Senate Finance Committee before it can go up for a vote in the Senate. The session ends Thursday at noon.

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