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Editorial: Lawmakers should buckle down, pass needed reforms

The 2016 Legislature adjourns at noon Thursday. That means there are still a few days to get not only the state budget but also important legislation onto the floors of each chamber for votes. Those votes are essential for New Mexicans to know where their 42 senators and 70 representatives stand on proposed solutions to issues that have been plaguing the Land of Enchantment – in some cases, for many years.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, should make a change from his standard modus operandi of providing political cover as good bills die bad deaths in the Senate, languishing in their third or fourth committee. This year, the 23-year veteran of the New Mexico Senate should work with his committee chairs to get these on the calendar:

HB 99, Real ID. The Senate’s amended version honors the original and would finally put the state into compliance with the post-9/11 federal law by ensuring driver’s licenses are secure for entering federal installations and boarding commercial flights while providing a driver’s permit for undocumented immigrants as well as residents who don’t want the full license.

HB 171, Return To Work. The bill addresses the serious staffing shortage facing local law enforcement departments across the state, allowing them to rehire selected retirees to shore up front-line ranks in the name of public safety while also shoring up the pension fund with resumed contributions but no increased withdrawals or accruals.

HB 65, Child Porn Charges. This amended bill would increase penalties for possession, distribution and manufacture of pornographic images of children, including a mandatory nine-year sentence with an additional year if the child is under age 13. New Mexico’s lax penalties have made it a magnet for creeps and perverts, transplants the state does not want or need.

HB 82, DWI Habitual Offender. This bill would expand the habitual offender law to include DWI, garnering an additional year for one prior conviction, four years for two prior convictions and eight years for three prior convictions.

HB 83, Increase DWI Penalties. This bill would add an additional year of jail time to fourth and subsequent DWI offenses as well as a possible 12-year sentence for No. 8. New Mexico needs to finally target the hard-core repeat DWI offenders and get them off the road.

HB 105, Campaign Finance Transparency. This bill would require electronic filing of candidates’ contribution and expenditure reports into an easily searched database for public access and government compliance monitoring. Considering the last secretary of state went to prison for campaign finance shenanigans, this should be a no-brainer.

HJR 5, Independent Ethics Commission. This constitutional amendment would go before voters, who could decide to create an independent agency to deal with complaints against legislators, other elected officials, lobbyists and government employees. This iteration is a good one, eschewing anonymous complaints and secret hearings for a politically balanced board that operates in the open. Again, considering the number of government officials who have been indicted, convicted and imprisoned for misconduct, this is long overdue.

HB 168, Transportation Network Company Services. This bill would allow ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the state, finally regulating a service that has been here since 2014 and providing certainty to entrepreneurs who want to make money giving other folks a ride.

And while the House has done a better job of moving bills through its chamber, there is no question there is still political theater there. Speaker Don Tripp, R-Soccoro, and House committee leadership should renew efforts to move on:

HB 307, Capital Outlay Reform. While the current system of divvying up infrastructure dollars by a third to each chamber and the governor is popular with lobbyists and politicos, it means the nation’s fifth-largest state builds things based on pure political wants, not prioritized constituent needs. That’s unconscionable, especially as state revenues decline.

SJR 1, Deny Bail for Dangerous Felons. In a hard-fought compromise announced Friday, this constitutional amendment would allow voters to decide if judges should be able to deny bail for dangerous felony defendants (they can’t now – really) and waive bail for the truly indigent who pose no danger but can’t scrape together money or property to bond out of jail.

SB 137, Student Athlete Concussion Protocols. This bill, sponsored by Sanchez and headed to the House, provides much-needed clarification of when the benching clock starts for athletes who have suffered a brain injury. Last year’s case of parents who played the court system against the state athletic association and their son’s school so he could take the field shows it is needed for student safety.

With the clock ticking, it would be all too easy for lawmakers to once again tell the taxpaying public they simply ran out of time to pass meaningful reforms in a short budget session. But with all Senate and House seats up for election this year, it is important voters remember if their duly elected lawmakers cast a vote on meaningful reforms.

And if they didn’t, to cast a meaningful vote themselves.

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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