Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – It’s a short session, but the governor’s agenda is long.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday that she is preparing a broad set of legislative priorities for the last regular session of her tenure – heavy on anti-crime and public safety initiatives, but also addressing education and the economy.
Some of the ideas are familiar and have been rejected repeatedly by the Democratic majorities in the Legislature, such as reinstating the death penalty for the killing of police officers, corrections officers and children.
But there are new ideas, too, and Martinez said she is optimistic that New Mexico lawmakers will agree that more must be done to keep repeat offenders from cycling in and out of jail.
One area of focus, she said, is fixing the pretrial release system – where, she says, the courts are too quick to release people who have been arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. It allows offenders to commit new crimes, she said, even after police have caught them for one, making a “mockery” of the justice system.
“We can’t afford to continue the policy of catch and release,” Martinez, a former prosecutor, told the Journal on Thursday.
In a separate interview, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said he agrees that there are “procedural changes that need to be made” on pretrial release. But the state judiciary is already moving forward with changes, he said, and a legislative fix may not be necessary.
More broadly, Wirth said, there’s bipartisan support in the Legislature for a “balanced” approach to overhauling criminal justice – protecting the public but also helping people who need treatment but aren’t a safety threat.
“I’m willing to look at bills that get dangerous individuals off the streets,” he said, “provided they’re balanced with changes that get non-dangerous people out of the system.”
The 30-day session begins Jan. 16. It’s generally dedicated to the budget, unlike the 60-day sessions that occur in even-numbered years.
Martinez, however, has authority to add other items to the agenda.
And she isn’t stopping at crime.
Martinez said she will pursue new legislation on education, economic development, government accountability and other topics.
In many cases, the details are unclear because the legislation isn’t yet in its final form, but here’s a look at her priorities:
Martinez wants increased criminal penalties for felons in possession of a firearm, drunken drivers with more than four convictions, carjacking and battery of a Children, Youth and Families Department worker. Her ideas include a “three strikes” law that would impose a life sentence on people convicted of three violent offenses.
Democratic lawmakers have generally opposed increased penalties in recent years, arguing that they aren’t an effective way to deter crime and they result in increased corrections and other costs.
Martinez said she will pursue a “Protect New Mexico Kids Act” that would toughen penalties for child abuse that results in the death of a youngster up to the age of 18, not just children 12 and under, or enticing a child into a secluded area.
The proposal would also fix a loophole, her administration said, by making it clear that it’s a crime for an adult to text images of “intimate” body parts to children, even if the graphic picture isn’t of the adult’s own body.
Martinez said she wants to expand legal immunity for law enforcement officers, as long as they’re following their training.
“I don’t believe police officers should be under this constant threat of a lawsuit,” she said.
Martinez said she will back several proposals to help law enforcement agencies.
She wants officers to be able to provide testimony by video conference at certain hearings – to make it easier for them to balance their workload.
She will also back bills allowing retired officers to return to work while still drawing a pension, and a change in veteran officers’ contributions to the pension program, allowing them to boost their take-home pay.
Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly turned down the return-to-work proposal.
Martinez said she will strengthen background check requirements for people who work in schools.
Also, it should be easier, she said, to hire adjunct teachers with professional experience to fill in when there’s a classroom vacancy in science, math, engineering or technology.
She also favors legislation limiting administrative spending by schools, and putting that money in classrooms.
Martinez said she will push for a 2 percent pay increase for all teachers. She would also seek an additional $5,000 increase in pay for teachers rated “exemplary,” based on student data and a $10,000 increase for exemplary high school science, math and technology teachers.
She also favors a $250 tax credit for all teachers to help pay out-of-pocket for some school supplies.
Martinez said she will take a new tack in pushing to limit “social promotion” when children can’t read at grade level.
She will support a “Reading Success Act” – an attempt, she said, to get children extra academic help as early as kindergarten to ensure they can read before they advance through elementary school. Martinez will push a policy in which teachers and parents meet early to determine the best course for struggling students – and whether repeating kindergarten or first grade is the best option.
The governor has repeatedly pushed to limit “social promotion” and hold back children who struggle with reading, especially if they cannot read by the end of third grade, without much success in the Legislature. But the new proposal will be aimed at getting children help earlier than past proposals, she said.
The governor will again back plans to simplify New Mexico’s gross receipts tax system and make the state a more attractive place to do business.
One priority, Martinez said, is to address the worst instances of something called “pyramiding” – or the imposition of gross receipts taxes on each step in a larger transaction, resulting in an exponential increase in the overall taxes paid.
It’s a particular problem for small businesses that can’t afford in-house legal and accounting staff – because they have to pay taxes when they hire, say, an accounting firm to do their taxes, putting them at a disadvantage before they even sell something to a customer. Martinez wants to lift the tax burden created by pyramiding.
Among other changes she will seek is to make nonprofit hospitals pay the same tax rate as other hospitals.
She also said she will back a proposal aimed at strengthening privacy for commercial space companies, allowing them to keep “trade secrets” confidential during early negotiations to use the Spaceport, perhaps with a new exemption to public records laws.