The 2016 legislative session recently came to a close leaving lawmakers and New Mexicans to reflect on the work that was completed during the last 30 days.
Prior to the session, New Mexicans strongly voiced their anger over the senseless loss of life we witnessed this past year. They demanded action from their lawmakers.
House Republicans resolved to fix our laws to stop dangerous and violent repeat offenders from cycling through New Mexico’s criminal justice system and inflicting harm on innocent citizens.
House Republicans fought hard to pass crucial legislation to protect the people of New Mexico, and we secured some important victories.
First, we passed Jaydon’s Law which will give judges a comprehensive look at a defendant’s history of violence. Jaydon’s Law will give judges the facts they need to make well informed pre-trial decisions. It’s named for Jaydon Chavez-Silver who was gunned down at a house party last year by drive-by shooter, and his mother, Nicole Chavez, was a determined advocate for its passage.
We passed SJR 1, a proposal to reform the state’s bail bond system. This amendment to the state’s Constitution will give judges the authority to keep the most dangerous criminals in jail pending trial. It’s a valuable tool needed to protect the public from the worst of the worst criminals, and the amendment will now be put on the November ballot for the voters’ approval.
We closed New Mexico’s child pornography loophole. Previously, individuals caught possessing child pornography could only be sentenced to a maximum of 18 months in prison, which amounted to a slap on the wrist. The legislation spearheaded by Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes increases penalties for the production and distribution of child pornography as well as possession. Thanks to Maestas Barnes, we delivered a strong message to child pornographers that New Mexico will not tolerate the exploitation of children.
We finally fixed New Mexico’s driver’s license system to bring our state into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Reps. Paul Pacheco and Andy Nuñez spent countless hours working to get their bill, HB 99, through the Legislature. Their tireless efforts have preserved the integrity of New Mexico’s driver’s licenses and will permit illegal immigrants to keep their driving privileges by allowing them apply for a driver’s authorization card.
These bills are examples of the thoughtful legislation that can result from constructive bipartisan discussion.
During the last two weeks of the session, a handful of senators worked with the House to overcome the delaying tactics that were preventing us from sending good bills to the governor’s desk. I’m hopeful that the closing days of this year’s session will serve as a blueprint for future sessions.
That said, I’m disappointed that our colleagues in the Senate failed to pass other important reforms.
Senate committees killed legislation to protect law enforcement officers under the New Mexico Hate Crimes Act as well as “Lilly’s Law,” an effort to reform New Mexico’s toothless “three strikes” law. The Senate also gutted a proposal offered by Rep. Jim Dines to establish an independent ethics commission to help safeguard the integrity of our public institutions.
As the father of two young children, I worry about the escalating number of violent incidents claiming the lives of New Mexicans. As long I remain in the Legislature, I will continue my work on behalf of the families of those affected by violent crime.
We accomplished a great deal this year, but there is more we can do. And if we continue the momentum we created in the last two weeks of the session, I’m excited about what we can achieve for New Mexico in the future.
Rep. Nate Gentry is a Republican from Albuquerque.