Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
House Republican Leader Nate Gentry said Wednesday that he will focus on pragmatic, bipartisan legislation to address crime and education this year – an acknowledgment of the Democratic majorities in both chambers and the brevity of the coming session.
Gentry, whose district covers a chunk of the Northeast Heights in Albuquerque, said it’s clear that Democrats aren’t going to reverse their position on some of the crime bills traditionally sponsored by Republicans and backed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
But he said he’s hoping to find common ground on a few proposals to improve public safety – one of which calls for enrolling inmates in Medicaid and connecting them with mental health or addiction treatment after they leave jail.
It’s a critical strategy, Gentry said, because most jail inmates have mental health or substance abuse problems.
The proposal “is really important to me and would really move the needle,” Gentry said Wednesday as he addressed the Economic Forum, a nonpartisan group of business leaders.
He is co-sponsoring the Medicaid legislation with Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.
Gentry said he is also backing a proposal to stiffen penalties for violent felons caught with firearms – something House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, has said he’s willing to consider.
The Medicaid and firearm proposals are part of a broader package of anti-crime bills that Gentry said he hopes will make it through the Legislature this year.
As for education, Gentry said New Mexico could improve student outcomes with two initiatives that wouldn’t cost much – sending text alerts to parents when their children fall behind in school and requiring high school graduates to apply to a college or trade school.
“Our focus is on being pragmatic here,” he said.
The 30-day session begins Tuesday. It’s largely dedicated to budget matters, but the governor has authority to add other items to the agenda.
Martinez has made it clear that she wants anti-crime legislation to be a priority in the session, the last of her tenure.
New Mexico had the nation’s highest property crime rate and second-highest violent crime rate in 2016, the last year for which FBI data are available.