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SANTA FE – Legislators pushing to reshape New Mexico’s pretrial detention system abandoned their initial proposal Wednesday amid a barrage of legal questions and other skepticism.
But they found success with a substitute measure intended to strengthen the supervision of felony defendants awaiting trial.
Democratic Rep. Marian Matthews of Albuquerque – who has led House efforts this session to hold more criminal defendants in jail before trial – offered a new version of her proposal Wednesday that focuses instead on the ankle-monitor data of defendants released from custody as they await trial.
The amended version of House Bill 5 would require the pretrial division of the judiciary to provide around-the-clock monitoring of the locations of people who have been charged with a felony and released before trial.
The courts would have to alert law enforcement if the defendant removes the monitoring unit or visits a prohibited location, such as the home of an alleged victim.
The bill also calls for the judiciary to provide the location data to law enforcement officers, prosecutors or public defenders, upon request.
The measure “recognizes the importance of giving our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to effectively combat crime and improve public safety,” Matthews told her colleagues Wednesday in a hearing on the measure.
The proposal cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-2 vote and is now heading to the full House for consideration. If passed there, it would also have to make it through the Senate by noon Feb. 17 to reach the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Matthews said she offered the revised proposal because it was clear there wasn’t enough time to resolve legal and other questions raised by opponents of the earlier bill.
The new version offers some “common sense” steps, she said, to deter crime and help law enforcement officers.
The measure won bipartisan support in the hearing, but lawmakers suggested more amendments are on the way.
“We’re truly trying to get this right,” Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said as she urged supporters of the measure to consider suggested changes.
Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, supported the proposal Wednesday but said prosecutors and law enforcement agents should have to explain why they need location data or meet some standard before it’s turned over to them.
The two “no” votes came from Democratic Reps. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos and Micaela Lara Cadena of Mesilla. They raised concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of the data if it’s shared beyond the judiciary.
Chandler said law enforcement agents shouldn’t be permitted to go on a “fishing expedition” without justification.
The new proposal replaces a measure that had been a focus of the tough-on-crime package of bills promoted this session by Lujan Grisham and others.
New Mexico’s violent crime rate has been twice the national average for the last three years, according to legislative analysts.
The initial version of House Bill 5 – and a companion measure in the Senate – would have created a rebuttable presumption of dangerousness for defendants charged with certain violent crimes, such as murder, child abuse and assault on a peace officer.
Supporters said the presumption would have made it easier for prosecutors to get approval to hold a person in jail while they await trial.
But the proposal ran into bipartisan skepticism in both chambers of the Legislature. A Senate panel flatly rejected the idea in a hearing Monday, making it almost certain the proposal couldn’t make it through this session.
Lawmakers are now focusing on other crime legislation, including proposals intended to stiffen penalties for some crimes and make it easier to prosecute “chop shops” that dismantle stolen vehicles.
They also are weighing spending measures that would boost salaries nearly 16% for State Police officers and provide additional funding for pretrial monitoring.
The state House on Wednesday also adopted legislation 61-1 to provide bonuses to law enforcement officers, sending it on to the Senate.
The proposal, House Bill 86, calls for bonuses equal to 5% of an officer’s salary after four, nine, 14 and 19 years on the job. They’d have to commit to staying an extra year on the job to get the bonus.
The measure would establish a state fund to pay for the incentives, which are expected to cost $2.4 million to $3.7 million a year.
State Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said the state budget proposal includes one-time funding for the bonuses but that she’s hopeful ongoing funding will be set aside in future years to continue the program.
She is one of seven Democratic and Republican sponsors of the bill.