Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The sponsors of a proposal to prohibit life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder say they are pulling the bill and will bring it back next year.
They said prosecutors and others critical of the bill had pushed for unacceptable amendments.
In a joint statement, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Reps. Gail Chasey and Dayan Hochman-Vigil, all Albuquerque Democrats, said they are confident the bill can pass next year.
They said the proposal, Senate Bill 43, would make New Mexico the 26th state to abolish juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole.
It would ensure any juvenile sentenced as an adult – for murder or other serious felony offenses – would be eligible for parole after serving 15 years.
“When states like Oregon and West Virginia agree,” the sponsors said, “we know we are not discussing a political issue, but a moral one.”
The bill had passed the full Senate, one House committee and was awaiting a hearing in a second House committee. But the sponsors said they are removing it from consideration.
Sen. Crystal Diamond, an Elephant Butte Republican opposed to the bill, said the decision to pull it was an acknowledgement of the advocacy work of families who had lost a loved one to murder.
A shooting survivor and families of crime victims testified against the bill during this year’s session, and Republican lawmakers said the bill would force families to prepare for parole hearings, reopening old wounds.
“Senate Bill 43 forced the families of many victims to relive their tragedies and I am grateful that they were heard,” Diamond said.
Under the proposal, it would be up to a parole board to decide whether to release an inmate from custody. If parole were denied, the offender would be eligible for parole hearings every five years.
About 40 inmates would become eligible for parole if the bill were approved, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
Supporters call it the “Second Chance” bill.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had added the measure to the agenda of this year’s session, but she also “was supportive of legislators consulting with a variety of stakeholders as the bill made its way through the legislative process,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said.
Denali Wilson, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said supporters of the legislation will push for its passage in a future session.
“We know that all children are capable of redemption,” she said, “and we are proud that the sponsors did not accept amendments that violate this truth. While the bill will not proceed this year, our work is not over.”