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Time is running out for crime bills in Roundhouse

SANTA FE – Anti-crime bills pushed by majority Republicans in the House and backed by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez were pending in the Senate on Tuesday as the 30-day legislative session wound down.

Still in the mix: harsher penalties for drunken driving, child pornography and child abuse, as well as measures to expand the three-strikes law and allow judges a look at the juvenile records of some offenders.

The legislative session – which started with Martinez’s plea to fix laws that were “too lax” and a justice system that was “too weak” – ends at noon Thursday.

Legislation to allow cities and counties to enact youth curfew ordinances was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night.

House Bill 29 was prompted by a spate of recent violent crimes, including the July 2015 killing of Albuquerque bartender Steven Gerecke.

The bill failed to pass because of bipartisan opposition. Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, joined five Democrats in voting against it. The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, joined the panel’s three other Republican members in voting for it.

“I really worry about this giving police the ability to stop any younger-looking kid,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved and sent to the full Senate a bill that would toughen DWI penalties for some offenders.

Senate Bill 118 would create a penalty for an eighth or subsequent DWI: a potential 12 years in prison, with 10 years of that mandatory. Currently, the penalty provisions stop at a seventh or subsequent DWI with a potential of three years in prison.

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, fretted that the change could be costly even as the state deals with its revenue crunch.

“From a campaign standpoint, I fully understand why you’re running this out there, but there is a cost,” Smith said as the bill’s sponsors – Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup – explained the bill.

There will be “fewer people to enforce this, and fewer people to watch them once they’re incarcerated,” Smith said.

The finance panel also unanimously approved House Bill 65, which would change the sentencing provisions for child pornography offenses. Currently, offenders can be sentenced to a maximum of 18 months no matter how many images they possess.

The legislation would allow sentences of up to 10 years for possession, plus an additional year if the child depicted is under 13.

Distribution or production could result in an 11-year sentence – up from three years – and manufacture could bring a 12-year sentence, up from nine years.

The committee adopted an amendment to the bill aimed at ensuring that teenagers under 18 who engage in “sexting” aren’t charged with possession of child pornography, as long as the child pictured was between 14 and 18 and wasn’t coerced.

Expansion of the state’s three-strikes law, House Bill 56, also was pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It would add to the list of crimes that can trigger a life sentence under the three-strikes law, which critics complain is so narrow that it’s never used.

The juvenile records of some adult offenders could be reviewed by judges who were considering bail for them under House Bill 72, which could be voted on by the full Senate today.

Judges could review juvenile records for those 30 or younger charged with felonies. The records would be kept confidential, and the reviews would be done in the judge’s chambers.

A hybrid bill that would expand the reach of local liquor excise taxes while also increasing penalties for killing or injuring someone while driving drunk also cleared the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Bill 332 headed for the full Senate for a vote, over the objections of the liquor and restaurant industries.

It passed with barely 48 hours left in the session, and if it passed the Senate it would not likely survive the Republican-dominated House.

It would expand the option to impose a local liquor excise tax to counties other than McKinley County, the only one that currently imposes the tax. It also would allow the proceeds to be used for local drug and alcohol programs.

It would increase the penalty for killing or seriously injuring someone while driving drunk from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. It also says somebody convicted of an eighth or subsequent DWI would be guilty of a second-degree felony and be sentenced to a mandatory 10 years in prison.

Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.

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