Legislative Update #3
This 30-day session has unfolded as we had anticipated. This year’s session has proven to be focused on cracking down on crime, and there are several competing proposals. The cutoff for introduction of legislation was February 2nd which means all the bills we need to analyze are in the system.
Although crime has been an issue in New Mexico for several years, many have gotten on the bandwagon since this is an election year. Liberty and Justice Coalition has completed an analysis of the governor’s proposals as well as those put forward by other legislators. We are convinced that some of these are not smart proposals at all. We had feared that there could be a proposal pertaining to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), but fortunately, there is not such a proposal this session.
The final total of bills pending is 215 in the Senate and 207 in the House of Representatives. These totals do not include memorials, joint resolutions, and dummy bills that are introduced as place holders in the event of them being needed later. The issue that continues generating the most controversy is reform of New Mexico’s pre-trial release system. Albuquerque attorney Ashley Reymore Cloud was a guest on the Registry Matters Podcast recently. You can listen here RM212: Accused and Held Without Bond Explained – YouTube. Ashley discussed in great detail the two proposals and her opinion that both are unconstitutional.
LJC believes that the public is being misled by being told that the proposed changes are constitutional and necessary, despite there being bipartisan concerns in terms of their constitutionality. The talking points are that the police are doing their job apprehending the criminals only to have them released on their own recognizance to go out and commit new crimes. The solution being proposed is to make it harder for those accused of crimes 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, dealing with that issue, has been filed already, and, if passed, will essentially accomplish that objective.
There are some bad provisions tucked into many of these proposals that need to be fully debated. For example, HB 27 would reform the pre-trial detention to include a “presumption of dangerousness.” This is problematic because this shifts to the defendant the burden of rebutting a presumption that he/she is dangerous based merely on the charge(s). A look at the offenses on the list of presumptive dangerous offenses reveals some sexual offenses.
LJC’S LEGISLATIVE FOCUS
SB 117 – Eliminating the Civil Statute of Limitations for All Childhood Sexual Abuse Crimes
This bill has not moved yet, which means time is of the essence for the proponents to get it scheduled for hearings. This is a proposal that will come back year after year until something eventually passes.
SB 189 – Pre-Trial Detention Changes
This bill was just introduced in the Senate prior to the deadline for introduction of legislation. Our concerns remain the same as with the versions pending in the House of Representatives. The legislation reads in pertinent part, “Subject to rebuttal by the defendant in a pretrial detention hearing requested by a prosecuting authority, evidence or offers of proof establishing probable cause for any of the following felony offenses for which a defendant is charged shall be deemed prima facie proof that the defendant is a danger to any other person or to the community and that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.”We believe that proposed language is an unconstitutional shifting of the burden to the accused. A person is entitled to the presumption of innocence and has a constitutional right to bail.
HB 5 & HB 27 – Pre-Trial Detention Changes
With the addition of SB 189, there are now three bills pending that will change the existing burden from the prosecution to demonstrate that the accused should be detained pending trial to the accused. They all propose a “rebuttable presumption,” which will 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 he or she 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. As stated above, LJC has serious concerns, and we will be working to improve or kill the proposals.
HB 5 was heard in the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee and received a “Do Pass” recommendation. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee which has it scheduled to be heard on Monday, February 7th.
HB 27 was heard in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee where it did not receive enough votes to keep moving through the process.
HB 25: Change the Statute of Limitations for 2nd Degree
This legislation is dead for this session because it was not determined to be germane. In order for a bill to be considered in a short session, it must have a message from the governor. This bill did not.
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. This bill was heard in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and failed to receive a “Do Pass” recommendation.
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. This bill was heard in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and did not receive a “Do Pass” recommendation.
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. This bill is currently stuck in the House Rules Committee to determine if it’s germane.
LJC is a non-partisan entity, which means we will work to alter or defeat proposals that we believe are not wise or in the best interest of our state, regardless of which political party is promoting the legislation.
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