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Lawmakers give final OK to bail reform measure

SANTA FE — New Mexico voters will have their say in the November election on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would allow judges to hold dangerous felony defendants without bail pending trial.

The Senate, in a unanimous vote today, gave final approval to the proposed amendment — the result of a compromise reached by key lawmakers, the state Supreme Court, the bail industry and others.

The House unanimously approved the proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, last week.

The chief targets of the proposed amendment are dangerous “turnstile thugs” — those offenders who are jailed, only to post bail and commit more crimes while awaiting trial. Currently, under the state Constitution, nearly all defendants are entitled to reasonable bail.

Under the proposed amendment, a judge could deny bail to a defendant if there was clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions would reasonably protect the safety of any person or the community.

Proposed constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature don’t go to the governor for signature or veto. Instead, they go directly to voters. However, Gov. Susana Martinez’s top public safety official has endorsed the proposed bail amendment.

The proposed amendment includes a second provision designed to deal with defendants who pose no risk but are held in jail before trial because they can’t post bail.

Under that provision, a defendant who is neither a danger nor a flight risk couldn’t be detained before trial solely because of a financial inability to post a money or property bond.