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House OK’s expanded ‘Three Strikes’ law

The House today after emotionally charged debate voted to broaden New Mexico’s “three strikes” law, which mandates life in prison for some convicted felons.

The vote was 49-14 to expand the list of crimes that qualify an offender for a “three-strikes” prosecution.

Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, called the current law, passed in 1994, “a joke” because it is too narrow and has not yielded a single conviction.

“I am tired of burying my friends. I am tired of losing children,” said Pacheco, a retired police officer who sponsored House Bill 5.  Violent repeat offenders, he said, “victimize all of us.”

The bill was among three crime bills that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez put on the agenda of the special legislative session, which was called because of a budget crisis: gaping holes in revenues in the current and just-ended fiscal years.

Democrats have objected to the inclusion of crime legislation in the special session, which began Friday, calling it politically motivated because of the upcoming general election.

The Senate’s Democratic majority didn’t consider any crime bills; the Senate adjourned early Saturday after passing a package of legislation to balance the budget.

Democratic opponents of the “three strikes” expansion said it doesn’t do anything to prevent crime in the first place and creates a false sense of security.

“Us working to send people to prison is more important than us working to keep people out of prison,” complained Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan.

The legislation adds about a dozen crimes to the list that can subject an offender to “three-strikes” prosecution.

According to data from the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, had the proposed law been in place between 2000 and 2014, 59 offenders would have been sentenced to life in prison.