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SANTA FE – Legislators on a Senate panel late Monday rejected a proposal to reshape New Mexico’s pretrial detention system – a key pillar of the tough-on-crime bills introduced this session.
The bipartisan measure, Senate Bill 189, was tabled on an 5-3 vote in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, preventing the bill from moving forward in that chamber.
An identical proposal, however, is still alive in the state House.
But Monday’s vote is a serious blow to its chances of final passage.
Sen. Bill Tallman, an Albuquerque Democrat who voted against the bill, said he wasn’t convinced the measure was the right approach to addressing crime in New Mexico.
“There’s no magic bullet. There’s no easy answers,” Tallman said. “We need a long-term solution.”
The proposal is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, all Democrats.
It’s among a fleet of proposals under consideration by lawmakers this year intended to address New Mexico’s high rate of violent crime, twice the national average the last three years.
But the bill has also run into skepticism in both chambers of the Legislature.
In Monday’s hearing, supporters said the legislation would be a commonsense step toward reducing crime. It would keep dangerous offenders behind bars, they said, and ensure they don’t commit new offenses.
Some testimony came from crime victims and their families.
Angel Alire of Albuquerque said the man accused of killing her son last year had been released before trial, and she asked lawmakers to change the pretrial detention law.
“It’s not working and because of this my son is dead,” Alire said.
Opponents, by contrast, questioned the constitutionality of the proposal and said it would do little to reduce New Mexico’s crime rate.
Barron Jones, senior policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said he can empathize with families who have lost loved ones to violence, as he has. But holding more people behind bars while they await trial, he said, will damage families as defendants lose jobs and other opportunities.
“It will have a disastrous impact on communities reeling from decades of tough-on-crime policies,” Jones said.
Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 5 would create a rebuttable presumption of dangerousness for defendants charged with certain violent crimes, including murder, child abuse and assault on a peace officer.
The goal would be to make it easier for prosecutors to secure approval to hold a person in jail while they await trial.
Sponsoring the Senate version of the bill were Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.