Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
House Speaker Brian Egolf says he and his Democratic colleagues will push in the upcoming legislative session to help New Mexico cities hire more police officers and make it easier for the courts to keep certain defendants in jail as they await trial.
In a speech to Albuquerque business leaders Wednesday, Egolf said he expects the 30-day session starting in January to focus on public safety, the budget and tax policy.
It’s the last regular session of Gov. Susana Martinez’s tenure, and the Republican governor already has said she wants legislation that toughens criminal penalties and overhauls New Mexico’s bail system.
But Egolf’s comments suggest that Democrats – who control both chambers of the Legislature – also intend to make public safety a priority.
He didn’t reveal specifics, but he said he and his colleagues support “putting state dollars into local governments” to help them hire police officers.
Albuquerque, in particular, has struggled to fill the ranks of its police force as crime has spiked in the city. In fact, the homicide rate in Albuquerque is on a record-breaking pace this year.
Egolf, an attorney from Santa Fe, said Albuquerque’s crime rate is a statewide concern, and that public safety is a factor in economic development and attracting talented people to live and work here.
And Albuquerque crime certainly has the attention of legislators from across New Mexico, he said.
“The top priority is the hiring, training, retention and community-policing orientation of law-enforcement officers around the state,” Egolf said.
New Mexico has the nation’s highest property crime rate and the second highest violent crime rate, according to FBI data released in September.
Egolf said there’s widespread agreement that New Mexico needs to change its laws and court rules on bail. But he didn’t go as far as the governor, who has called on lawmakers to “repeal and replace” a constitutional amendment passed by voters last year that allowed judges to hold certain serious offenders without bail and to release many others on their own recognizance.
“Pretrial procedures are cumbersome and costly and resulting in too many people being released when they shouldn’t be,” Egolf said.
His speech came at a meeting of the Economic Forum, a nonpartisan group of business leaders. He told the crowd at Hotel Albuquerque that:
– Democrats will push to plow an extra $50 million into early-childhood programs aimed at preparing youngsters for elementary school. Previous proposals focused on tapping into revenue from New Mexico’s land grant permanent fund.
That effort will continue. But Egolf said a separate proposal will involve the severance tax permanent fund – a smaller pot of money – and that some legislators would see less money for capital projects as a result of the change, if approved.
– As someone who served as minority leader when Republicans controlled the House, he recognizes the importance of bipartisanship.
“I am maybe more than anybody else frustrated with partisan politics,” Egolf said, adding that he would work to “try to change the tone,” even when it isn’t popular with one side or the other.