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Crime bill gets final approval

SANTA FE – A bipartisan proposal to address New Mexico’s high crime rates made it out of the Legislature in the session’s final hours.

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Albuquerque Police SWAT team members make their way to a standoff in Northeast Albuquerque earlier this month. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/JOURNAL)

It now heads to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration.

The bill passed the Senate 32-2 on Wednesday afternoon, and the House signed off on the Senate version later in the day.

House Bill 19 would stiffen penalties for violent felons caught with a firearm and offer retention bonuses for veteran police officers. It also would lessen the penalties for minor offenses – a move intended to allow prosecutors to focus on more serious crimes.

The measure also includes provisions aimed at getting inmates struggling with mental illness or addiction the medical help they need after they leave jail.

The 90-page proposal is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, both of Albuquerque. It’s built on ideas offered by a variety of legislators.

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.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, told his colleagues about his car being broken into in Albuquerque and the safety concerns his children face in the city, which may encourage them to leave.

The crime rate “is costing us our young people,” Cervantes said.

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, opposed the bill, arguing that it should have included his proposal to toughen penalties for child abuse resulting in death for children older than 11 – a proposal known as an expansion of “Baby Brianna’s Law.”

“It needed to go further,” Baca said.

Martinez, a former prosecutor, hasn’t said whether she would sign House Bill 19, and Baca’s proposal was one of her priorities.

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