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Anti-crime bill moves forward in Senate

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The Albuquerque Police Department mobile crime lab and mobile community substation pull in front of a home where someone was shot and killed last year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A bipartisan package of anti-crime legislation – with support from both prosecutors and public defenders – cleared a key Senate committee Monday as supporters raced to get it passed in the final days of the session.

The 90-page proposal, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, both of Albuquerque, was approved 11-0 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill combines a variety of crime-fighting strategies – ranging from $15,000 bonuses to encourage retention of veteran police officers to increased penalties for violent felons caught with a firearm.

There also provisions that change penalties for minor offenses to ease the burden on prosecutors and allow them to focus on more serious crimes.

“This may not be perfect, but I think it’s a big step forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “This is the type of balance we need.”

But others raised questions about whether the proposal, House Bill 19, is ambitious enough.

“I worry that we’re still spinning our wheels,” said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque. “I worry that there should be a lot more true reform.”

Gentry and Ivey-Soto said the proposal is a pragmatic attempt at finding common ground between the traditional Democratic and Republican approaches to crime. Gentry is the Republican floor leader in the House.

Ivey-Soto said other anti-crime bills – including some he’s proposing – may also have merit, but the more contentious ideas were left out of the bipartisan bill to make it easier to win support.

There’s no guarantee that Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and former prosecutor, will sign the bill, but the legislation cleared the state House on a 66-1 vote.

The legislation picked up support in Monday’s meeting from agencies and advocates who are often at odds in the crime debate. State prosecutors, public defenders, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the state Association of Counties all testified in favor.

“Crime is a horrible, rising problem in Albuquerque,” said Terri Cole, the chamber’s president and CEO. “The business community considers this a crisis that needs to be fixed.”

New Mexico had the nation’s highest property crime rate and second-highest violent crime rate, after Alaska, in 2016, the latest year for which FBI data are available.

To make it to the governor, the proposal still must clear the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate – and then go back to the House for approval of some minor amendments – by noon Thursday, the end of the 30-day session.

The bill has provisions aimed at getting treatment for inmates struggling with a mental illness or addiction, even after they leave jail. It would also tighten alcohol-testing requirements for people who want to remove an ignition interlock device installed on their car.

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