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House panel still working on probation overhaul

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A bipartisan proposal to modernize New Mexico’s probation and parole system faces a delicate balance heading into the final two weeks of the 2020 legislative session.

Lawmakers wrestled Friday with how to satisfy prosecutors and public defenders as they craft a definition for what it means to abscond from supervision.

The House Judiciary Committee didn’t reach final agreement on the language Friday and will consider the legislation again Saturday.

The proposal, House Bill 263, will have to move quickly to reach the governor’s desk in time.

Approval by the committee would send the legislation to the full House for consideration. If approved there, it would also have to make it through Senate committees and the full Senate by Feb. 20, the end of the session.

Friday’s hearing demonstrated the difficulty the bill faces.

Rep. Gail Chasey, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she couldn’t support the latest version of the legislation without changes to the definition of “absconding.” As an attorney, she said, she has seen people listed as having absconded – resulting in a return to custody – for mundane reasons, such as missing an appointment when a baby sitter didn’t show up to watch their kids.

Chasey proposed adding language to make it clear that absconding means the person missed the appointment or failed to check in “with the purpose of avoiding supervision” – in other words, not just because of car trouble or something similar.

“People are being revoked when they miss an appointment for reasons that could be absolutely innocent,” Chasey said.

But it wasn’t immediately clear whether prosecutors – who didn’t oppose the earlier version of the bill – would find the change acceptable.

The proposal is aimed at reducing the number of people sent back to prison based on technical violations – such as missed appointments or positive drug tests – rather than a new criminal charge.

New Mexico, Chasey said, spends $40 million a year re-incarcerating people for technical violations.

House Bill 263 is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Chasey of Albuquerque and Republican Reps. William “Bill” Rehm of Albuquerque, Jane Powdrell-Culbert of Corrales and Alonzo Baldonado of Los Lunas.


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