Halfway through the legislative session, many crime bills still near the starting line
SANTA FE, N.M. — House Democrat leaders met Thursday morning to outline their top public safety priorities, with just about four weeks left to go in the legislative session.
“We’ve had robust hearings on these bills,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, House speaker. “We don’t always agree on all of the bills. But as I’ve always said, we can have robust, hard debates, and move the ball forward.”
Outside of the state budget, Democratic leaders are narrowing their focus to 15 bills, split into two categories.
The first involves bills protecting children. It includes increasing penalties for improperly stored guns that end up in the hands of children. Bennie’s Law is the only one of those bills to cross the halfway point so far.
House Democrats also want to create a new Office of the Child Advocate inside the Attorney General’s Office, allow children to opt out of potentially traumatic court interviews, and improve CYFD operations, while also increasing transparency.
“Our goal is a CYFD that does a much better job of protecting our kids,” said Rep. Marian Matthews. “That happens when they have to explain to us what’s happening and how they’re doing, going about their job.”
The second set of bills is focused on keeping communities safe. It includes bills adding gun restrictions for intoxicated people, increasing penalties for drug trafficking with a gun, and adding a 14-day waiting period on firearm sales, while also preventing folks from buying guns for other people.
“Far too much of the gun violence in our state can be attributed to those who have no business owning firearms in the first place,” Rep. Raymundo Lara said.
House Democrats are also hoping to pass their organized retail crime bill, as well as extra support to clear felony warrant backlogs and creating an overdose prevention program.
“We cannot punish our way out of the drug epidemic. arresting people and incarcerating them without treatment is not a long-term solution,” said Rep. Tara Lujan.
The party is also looking at the court system, with bills to increase flexibility in court fines, enhance data used in sentencing recommendations, and modify how judges use the Arnold tool to help make pretrial detention decisions.
Despite Democrats having a large influence over which bills are heard in committees, most of the bills mentioned above are only a few steps past the starting line. Most of them still have to face House floor debates, and then the entire Senate committee and floor process.
House Speaker Martinez said that’s not unusual, and he expects things to pick up speed now that the state budget bill has cleared the House.
House Republicans are concerned Democrats are spending too much time on legislation that might not make a big difference in the long run, but they’re not firmly planted on their side of the aisle.
House Republican leaders told KOB 4 that more conversations are happening behind the scenes.
“Crime is probably the most concerning thing to our citizens in New Mexico right now,” said Rep. Andrea Reep. “So we’re taking our seat at the table, we’re sitting down with Democrats and the speaker, and we’re trying to co-sponsor bills with them that will address some of these problems.”
“Conservatives have real ideas to fix the crime problems in New Mexico,” said Rep. Ryan Lane, House minority leader. “And I think some of our Democrat colleagues are understanding that, and so they’ve been coming to us to work on our bills, because I understand that we have actual solutions that will actually make a difference.”
Rep. Bill Rehm expects there will be more dummy bills popping up in the coming weeks. Those could piece together ideas from both sides of the aisle, instead of fully reworking existing proposals.