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Governor wants focus on crime, schools, job creation

Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday called for lawmakers to focus on tougher criminal penalties, job-creation measures and New Mexico’s public school system during the coming 30-day legislative session.

In an address to Albuquerque business leaders, the two-term Republican governor said “communities are fed up” after the shooting deaths of two Albuquerque-area police officers in 2015 – plus a spate of other violent crimes.

“The public’s frustration is not misplaced,” Martinez told about 250 who attended a luncheon hosted by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. “Our laws are too lax and our criminal justice system is too weak – particularly when it comes to violent, dangerous offenders.”

Many of the initiatives outlined by the governor in her 24-minute speech have already been debated by the Legislature, including tougher penalties for repeat DWI offenders and those convicted of possessing child pornography images.

But Martinez also threw her support behind several new or newly revived proposals, including a measure that would allow cities to establish curfews for youngsters and a plan to amend the New Mexico Constitution to give judges more authority to deny bail for dangerous defendants.

On the issue of job creation, Martinez said she plans to add a “right-to-work” bill to the agenda for the session, which begins Jan. 19.

A right-to-work bill died in the Senate in last year’s legislative session after coming under fire from labor unions. That proposal would have meant nonunion employees – in both the private and public sectors – would not have had to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Although union membership cannot be required under federal law, such fees can be mandated under contracts in unionized workplaces.

Martinez also outlined several other initiatives aimed at improving the economy, including tax breaks and more money for the state’s tourism marketing efforts.

“We can always do more to make New Mexico the right place to do business,” Martinez said.

Some Democratic lawmakers have previously criticized Martinez’s agenda as being politically motivated, and the executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico released a statement Thursday blasting the governor for the state’s poor ratings in some job creation and education measures.

“It is time that the governor takes responsibility for those problems and starts working toward real, lasting solutions,” said Joe Kabourek, the state party’s executive director.

However, Martinez, in a thinly veiled shot at Democratic legislators, said in her speech Thursday that opposing her initiatives, specifically in the area of education, is “not an agenda.”

The shorter 30-day legislative sessions are typically focused on budgetary matters, though the governor can add other issues to the session’s agenda for lawmakers to consider.