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Supporters fear time is running out on child abuse bill


From left, District Attorney Marco Serna, Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia and State Police Chief Pete Kassetas speak two weeks ago about the death of Jeremiah Valencia. They provided gruesome details about the death of the 13-year-old at a home near Nambe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes joined prosecutors, police officers and others Tuesday to plead for a committee hearing on her proposal to expand “Baby Brianna’s Law” to cover older children.

The Albuquerque Republican’s legislation, House Bill 100, passed the House 62-6 Friday but hasn’t yet been heard by either of the two Senate committees it’s been assigned to, she said.

The measure would have to clear the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees – and the full Senate – by noon Thursday to reach Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk.

“I am completely disgusted at the fact that this bill can’t get passed,” New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told a news conference.

Maestas Barnes said she believes there’s still enough time this session to get the bill through the Legislature, if it’s a priority of Democratic leaders in the Senate.

“This is the same tragic ending that we’ve had in prior sessions,” she said at a news conference. “It’s the hope that those leaders in the Senate will take note of the critical importance of this legislation.”

In an interview, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the bill will have to go through the committee process like any other and that Maestas Barnes isn’t the only one trying to get hearings on legislation.

“I’ve got lots and lots of people frustrated,” he said.

Wirth added that a wide-ranging bipartisan bill to adjust criminal penalties, retain police officers and make other changes to the criminal justice system is further along and the focus of attention. That proposal, House Bill 19, is ready for action by the full Senate.

The Baby Brianna’s Law proposal would stiffen penalties – by imposing a life sentence – for the intentional abuse of a child resulting in death, when the child is ages 12 to 17. The law already covers younger children.

Oddly enough, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, is a co-sponsor of Maestas Barnes’ bill. He is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill is awaiting a hearing.

Maestas Barnes said the recent torture and death of Jeremiah Valencia, a 13-year-old boy in Santa Fe County, underscores the need for stiffer penalties.

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, who is also pushing for changes to child abuse laws, said there are plenty of “grim reminders of what we’re faced with.”

The bill is a priority of Gov. Martinez, a Republican and former state prosecutor.