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GOP, governor get a few of their crime bills passed

Gov. Susana Martinez and House Republicans wanted the Legislature to pass a slew of crime-related bills. They got a few.

Headed to the governor’s desk are measures that would increase penalties for child pornography and repeat drunken driving, allow judges to look at the juvenile records of some adult offenders, make criminal databases more accessible, and extend protections for rape victims.

The Legislature also gave the go-ahead for voters to decide on a constitutional change that would allow some dangerous defendants to be held without bail before trial.

Still, the Republican governor and GOP House leaders said they were disappointed at the failure of other bills, including proposals to expand the state’s three-strikes law and toughen child abuse penalties.

“For whatever reason, despite large majorities in the House supporting various measures to better hold child abusers accountable, the Senate killed many of these bills,” Martinez said at a news conference.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said majority Democrats “addressed the issue of crime in a thoughtful way to avoid unintended consequences and protect civil liberties.”

He suggested the bills hadn’t received sufficient scrutiny in the House.

“What I think we did that the House failed to do was vet those bills properly,” Sanchez told reporters.

A series of fatal shootings in the Albuquerque area – a 4-year-old girl riding in her family’s truck, a man in his driveway, two police officers on the job, a teen in a drive-by shooting – was the backdrop for this session’s focus on crime.

Anti-crime bills flew through the House in the session’s early days, sometimes with only a single committee assignment.

The chamber’s Democratic minority decried the “all crime, all the time agenda” of Republicans.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, appeared at a news conference Thursday packed with law enforcement officers and the families of crime victims.

He said he was most disappointed with the failure of the three-strikes bill – dubbed “Lilly’s Law” by the administration after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who died in a road rage incident in Albuquerque.

“At the end of the day, not much that we do up here matters if people aren’t safe,” Gentry said at the news conference.

The three-strikes legislation, House Bill 56, would have added 16 crimes to the current five that subject offenders to mandatory life sentences.

The New Mexico Sentencing Commission calculated from court data that the incarceration costs alone over 15 years would be about $60 million, according to an analysis done for lawmakers.

Sanchez said other states are moving away from such “expensive, discredited mass incarceration policies.”

Among the other crime-related bills that died in the Senate was a proposal to let cities and counties enact curfews for youths under 16.

The child pornography legislation is intended to fix a situation created by a court ruling that effectively said 18 months was the maximum sentence for possession, no matter how many images the offender possessed.

After a series of revisions by committees, House Bill 65 ended up increasing the potential prison time to 10 years – 11 years, in some cases – for possession, and ramping up penalties for manufacturing and distribution, as well.

Rejecting the argument of Attorney General Hector Balderas, who insisted it created a dangerous loophole, lawmakers exempted consensual “sexting” by teenagers.

The dispute between the AG and lawmakers over the bill played out in a committee – when AG staffers walked out after the amendment was adopted – and on the Senate floor, when Senate members, in a highly unusual move, refused to allow AG staffers into the chamber to help the bill’s sponsor during debate.

Senate Bill 118, which the Legislature passed and sent to the governor, would significantly increase penalties for the worst repeat DWI offenders – eighth and subsequent convictions – and for vehicular homicide involving drunken drivers.

“Until we get serious as a state about treatment and rehabilitation, this scourge … is going to continue,” Sanchez said in debate on the Senate floor before voting against it.