Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed bipartisan legislation Friday that will allow judges to impose stiffer penalties for two gun-related crimes and expand the potential sources of funding for community policing.
She also approved a bill that will require training in de-escalation techniques for law enforcement officers who work in schools.
Adopting new criminal penalties, meanwhile, marks a shift in a strategy for some Democratic lawmakers who have traditionally been skeptical that longer sentences deter crime.
But Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office last year, pushed for passage of the legislation this session as part of broader efforts to address New Mexico’s high crime rate. In Albuquerque last year, homicides hit a record high.
“We are working both to prevent crime and to hold criminals more accountable,” the governor said in a written statement. “That is the type of smart, coordinated effort that New Mexicans demand and deserve.”
The legislation, House Bill 6, targets two gun-related offenses – brandishing a firearm in the commission of a crime and being a felon in possession of a gun.
For brandishing a firearm, offenders will face a sentencing enhancement of three years, rather than one under current law. Judges would also have the option of suspending the extra time.
A felon in possession of a gun, meanwhile, will face a basic sentence of three years, or twice as long as is now law.
“We must make criminals understand we will make our communities safe,” said Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican who co-sponsored the bill.
The legislation also broadens how New Mexico can use its law enforcement protection fund. Cities and counties will be allowed to apply for money from the fund to train officers in “community-oriented policing” techniques aimed at preventing crime.
The fund can also be used to recruit and retain officers.
HB 6 goes into effect in July. It is jointly sponsored by Rehm and several Democratic legislators, including Reps. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Marian Matthews, both of Albuquerque.
“This legislation recognizes that crime doesn’t have just one cause or one solution by enhancing penalties for gun violence and by investing in deterrence through community policing,” Matthews said in a written statement.
The governor faces a Wednesday deadline to act on bills passed in the 2020 legislative session. She has so far signed 75 of the 88 bills approved by lawmakers.
Among the big-ticket items left are a $7.6 billion budget for next year and a $528 million spending package on public works.
Among the bills signed Friday are:
• House Bill 184, requiring training of school resource officers in de-escalation techniques, crisis management and adolescent brain development. It also increases a funding formula to pay for law enforcement equipment and training.
• House Bill 25, prohibiting employment discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth.
• Senate Bill 130, requiring public schools to give students credit for the work they’ve completed before transferring to another school, even if they move before the end of the semester or grading period. The legislation is intended to help students whose education is disrupted because of homelessness or placement in foster care.
• Senate Bill 136, allowing up to 11% of the Severance Tax Permanent Fund to be invested in New Mexico businesses. The current cap is 9%.
• Senate Bill 96, requiring an online financial reporting system showing school-level budgets.
• Senate Bill 57, imposing a fee on pet food to pay for expanded spay and neuter programs for dogs and cats.