Lawmaker presses colleagues to pass child abuse penalties bill | KOB 4
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Lawmaker presses colleagues to pass child abuse penalties bill

Kai Porter
February 07, 2018 07:58 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- After a debate Wednesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would expand Baby Briana's law so that anyone convicted of child abuse resulting in death would face a life sentence regardless of the child's age.

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House Bill 100 passed its final committee in the house. This is the third year state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, is trying to pass the law. It would increase the penalty for intentional child abuse resulting in death to a life sentence for all victims under 18, not just those under 12.

"There is an arbitrary age distinction in the law that essential is valuing a child that is 11 years and younger and they're saying those lives are essentially more important than a child that's aged 12 and older," Maestas Barnes said.

Maestas Barnes hopes the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia gives lawmakers a sense of urgency to pass her bill this year since it would have applied in his case, but time is running out. She's concerned her bill didn't move through the house committees fast enough.

"This particular bill didn't get scheduled until last week," she said. We had our first committee hearing and we were about halfway through the session at that point and that's just not quick enough"

House Speaker Brian Egolf said he supports the bill and even removed a third House committee hearing to get it to the floor sooner. 

"I don't know what more we could have done to expedite it beyond making sure it got scheduled as soon as it was referred to this committee," he said. "We've actually bumped her ahead of some other legislation in the criminal justice arena."

In Wednesday afternoon's committee hearing, several Democrats raised concerns saying a tougher penalty won't prevent child abuse. But Maestas Barnes said her bill's about getting justice for victims of child abuse.

"And it is my hope that now that we have a very tragic real-life example that people will recognize the need for this law," she said.

The bill could be up for a vote on the house floor as soon as Friday. If it passes the House, it heads to the Senate. That's where the real challenge begins for Maestas Barnes. The past two years, her bill died in that chamber of the Roundhouse.

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Kai Porter

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