Editorial: Meaningful crime bills and tax reform need swift approval - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Meaningful crime bills and tax reform need swift approval

With just days to go in the legislative session, it would seem crime isn’t a problem in New Mexico and our private sector economy is booming — that we’re not experiencing another year of record-setting homicides in Albuquerque, businesses aren’t closed or hanging on by a thread, criminals aren’t being released back onto the streets to commit more violent crimes, and store employees and bottom lines aren’t being victimized by shoplifters who regularly walk out with armloads of merchandise with impunity.

Because instead of tackling the scourge of lawlessness plaguing New Mexico, and instead of creating what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham calls a “stable and predictable” environment for doing business, the state’s lawmakers approved a proposal giving statewide elected leaders $50,000-plus pay raises in Senate Bill 442. The 60-day session ends at noon on Saturday.

“No real movement on crime bills is one of the big disappointments of the session,” lamented House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec.

Lawmakers have thus far missed an opportunity to tighten New Mexico’s pretrial detention laws to address repeat and dangerous offenders. Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman testified N.M.’s pretrial system “is broken — plain and simple.”

The governor understands this and supports adopting “rebuttable presumption,” which would create a presumption of dangerousness for defendants charged with certain violent crimes to preclude pretrial release. Defense attorneys could rebut with evidence and mitigating circumstances. A Senate committee killed SB 123 in mid-February.

An anti-crime bill that appears will make it through would crack down on organized retail crime. House Bill 234 finally passed the Senate on Thursday after it was bottled up for weeks in that chamber’s Judiciary Committee. It now goes back to the House for concurrence on the Senate amendments. The bill targets shoplifting rings by allowing the aggregation of the value of merchandise shoplifted in a year to make the theft of $2,500 or more of merchandise a third-degree felony, and it creates the new crime of organized retail crime, a second-degree felony.

Former Attorney General Hector Balderas said organized retail crime costs N.M. businesses $1 billion a year.

There is no excuse a bill so widely supported by the governor and lawmakers (with only three “no” votes in both chambers) is still awaiting approval in the last hours of the session.

Another important bill appears on its way to becoming law is the bipartisan compromise brokered by the governor that ensures New Mexico independent outpatient clinics can obtain the medical malpractice insurance they need. The medical malpractice measure, SB 523, sailed through both the House and Senate this week. The governor’s signature is almost guaranteed. This is a must-do to prevent more doctors from leaving the state and to stave off a looming medical crisis, and an example of what bipartisan negotiation can yield.

Let’s hope the same can be said for the massive tax bill that was being hammered out late Thursday by a conference committee. The committee was working on versions of the tax packages passed by the House and Senate. But, unfortunately, neither package addressed “pyramiding,” when taxes are levied several times on the same goods or services. Eliminating pyramiding would provide significant relief to small businesses and make us more competitive with other states.

Senate-amended House Bill 547 would lower income taxes for some middle- and lower-income taxpayers, modestly lower the state’s gross receipts tax rate, and provide rebates to taxpayers. It would also punish savers and investors by reducing the capital gains tax deduction and make it clear if you come to New Mexico and are successful, we will penalize you. And it misses the chance to attract a new workforce by removing the sunset date on military retirement pay as well as a chance to attract/grow companies by extending a single sales factor to all.

The governor has been an advocate for transformational public safety laws from the start of the session, and she issued a news release Thursday that the current incarnation of the tax bill creates a worrisome $1 billion-plus recurring liability. She’s right on both counts. As of Thursday evening, lawmakers had about 40 hours to make adjustments to help make New Mexico safer, provide certainly for business and set the state up for fiscal success. Here’s to caffeine and bipartisan diplomacy getting us there.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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