The state House spent all night debating the death penalty, voting after five hours to reinstate capital punishment, which New Mexico abolished in 2009.
The vote was 36-30, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
It came on the seventh day of a special legislative session called to address the state’s budget crisis, and over the objections of Democrats who said it was being pushed for political reasons.
Democrats contend that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez put crime bills on the agenda of the short session in order to use Democrats’ votes against them in the Nov. 8 election.
Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, said she was sponsoring the bill “because of lives that have been lost, because of the senseless crime in our communities,” including the deaths of five law enforcement officers in the past 18 months.
She said the bill is narrowly drawn, applying only to the murderers of police officers, corrections officers and children, and that it would be an option for prosecutors, not a requirement.
The current maximum penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole, is “not justice for those children who have lost their lives,” she said.
No other supporters of the bill spoke during the debate, which ended just before 6 a.m.
Opponents of House Bill 7 said the death penalty is a long, drawn-out, expensive process that poses the risk of executing innocent people and wouldn’t deter crime.
They said over the four decades before the death penalty was abolished, there were more than 200 death penalty cases, 15 people sentenced to death, and one person executed.
Critics said New Mexico would be reaching back to a failed policy of the past, rather than taking measures to try to prevent future heinous crimes.
Minority Democrats were outraged by the last-minute addition of the death penalty legislation to the voting agenda, which they said violated House rules and effectively kept the public out of the process.
The first two hours of debate focused on whether the death penalty repeal bill should be considered at all.
“It’s a travesty that we’re doing this in the middle of the night,” said Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park.
The debate over the issue began at 12:40 a.m. with only a half-dozen onlookers in the House gallery.
“No member of the public was given notice the debate would take place right now,” said Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said it was “nothing but dirty partisan politics.”
The Senate’s Democratic majority has thus far refused to consider crime bills: The Senate met on the first day of the session last Friday, passed budget bills, and went home to await House action.
The bill the House passed early today would go to the Senate, although it’s unlikely the Senate would consider it when it returns today for final budget decisions.