Legislative Update #1

The New Mexico Legislature convened for a 30-day session on January 18th. As we had anticipated, early indications are this will be a year of dueling get-tough on crime proposals from the governor as well as those seeking the office. The governor announced her proposals in advance of the session.

Those priorities include:

  • Imposing a “rebuttable presumption,” which shifts the burden to the those accused of murder, gun crimes, rape or other sex crimes to prove that they do not pose a danger to the community before being released pending trial.
  • Increasing penalties for second degree murder from 15 years to 18 years as well as removing the statute of limitations for that offense.
  • Increasing penalties for gun crimes, including increasing the penalty for unlawful possession of a handgun from misdemeanor to fourth degree felony; creating a new crime of “criminal threat” as a fourth-degree felony; adding penalty of third-degree felony for fleeing law enforcement that results in injury and second-degree felony for fleeing that results in great bodily harm; enhancing penalties for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a drug transaction.

The governor stated, “Living in a safe and healthy community is the right of every New Mexican, and these are smart proposals that get and keep the worst of the worst off of New Mexico streets.” Liberty and Justice Coalition will be carefully analyzing the governor’s proposals as well as those put forward by other legislators, regardless of their political party. In addition to what we know, we anticipate a proposal pertaining to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). We will work to alter or defeat proposals that we believe are not in the long-term interest of our state.

At the end of the first week there are already 159 bills pending in the Senate and 135 in the House of Representatives. The period for introduction of legislation closes at the mid-point of the session which is February 2nd. One of the larger issues looming is reform of New Mexico’s pre-trial release system. The public is being led to believe that the police are doing their job apprehending the criminals only to have them released on the own recognizance by irresponsible judges. The solution being proposed is to make it harder for defendants to be released pending trial. Another issue that has surfaced again is the statute of limitations for civil actions pertaining to allegations of sex crimes. The victims’ advocates have been relentless in their pursuit of abolition of the statute of limitations. SB 117 has been filed already which would essentially accomplish that objective if passed.

At this point, there hasn’t been enough analysis of the proposals currently pending for us to provide more details. In addition, we anticipate there will be a significant number of bills coming days as the deadline for introduction closes.

There are likely some horrible provisions tucked into many of these proposals that need to be identified. For example, look at HB 27 which would reform the pre-trial detention to include a “presumption of dangerousness.” This is problematic because the defendant has the burden of rebutting a presumption that he/she is dangerous based merely on the charge(s). Take a look at the

offenses on the list of presumptive dangerous offenses. You will note that there are some sexual offenses on the list.

LJC’s Watch List

SB 117 – Eliminating the Civil Statute of Limitations for All Childhood Sexual Abuse Crimes

HB 5 & HB 27 – Pre-trial Detention Reform

Much has been made about how pre-trial release has been granted since the reform of bail in New Mexico, and both of these bills aim to introduce a “rebuttable presumption” to make it more difficult for certain defendants awaiting trial to be released into the community. A “rebuttable presumption” means that the defendant will have the burden of proof to argue that they should be granted conditions of release awaiting trial, rather than the state having the burden of proof to argue the defendant should be detained awaiting trial. LJC has serious concerns and we will be working to improve these proposals.

HB 25 – 2nd Degree Murder Limitations

The annual bill to lift the statute of limitations on 2nd degree murder has appeared again, but also includes a provision calling for an expansion of 1st degree drug trafficking’s statute of limitations to 6 years. As we have in years past, we will oppose this bill.

HB 26 – Drug Trafficking with a Firearm

This bill aims to create a new crime of “unlawful carrying of a firearm while drug trafficking”. Rather than an enhancement to the criminal code in place, this creates a separate crime with the goal of stiffening the current misdemeanor of “unlawful carrying of a firearm” that would have otherwise been charged.

HB 28 – Felon in Possession of a Firearm

Similar to HB 26, this bill aims to further stiffen criminal penalties surrounding illegal firearm usage. Our current law on the books calls for an 18-month prison sentence for a felon in possession of a firearm while this bill aims to make it a 5-year prison sentence.

HB 31 – Three Strikes Law Expansion

With all of the concern surrounding rising crime rates in the state, this bill aims to address it by adding more crimes to New Mexico’s targeted “Three Strikes” law and removing the ability for a person sentenced to life under this statute to receive parole. It also adds more crimes to its qualifying violent felonies.

There will certainly be more legislation to be introduced as the session continues, and we will diligently continue to identify impact legislation as it is introduced to the roundhouse. Your financial support makes our mission possible and gives us the means to represent your interests to our lawmakers

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