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Law enforcement backs proposed scrap vehicle database bill

SANTA FE – A bipartisan bill that would require New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division to create a vehicle database for scrap and salvage yards was touted Tuesday by law enforcement officials as a way to stem an escalating trend of auto theft.

In Bernalillo County alone, the reported auto theft rate jumped by 56 percent from 2015 to 2016, when there 638 reported vehicle thefts, said Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales.

“Our deputies are frustrated and we’re hearing about this every day,” Gonzales said during a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol.

The legislation proposed at the Roundhouse – in the form of identical measures House Bill 177 and Senate Bill 139 – would require salvage companies to report any purchases of motor vehicles to the MVD within two days of a transaction.

The salvage yards would also have to check with the state, which would maintain the database, whether a vehicle had been reported stolen before purchasing it. Law enforcement agencies would also be able to access the database and would be notified if a vehicle came up as stolen.

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he doesn’t think the proposal would impose a financial burden on the state.

“It’s not going to cost anything in this time of financial struggles,” he said.

Other states have had successful results with similar laws, he and other backers said.

In North Carolina, for instance, state officials received reports of 41 stolen vehicles in the first month after a similar law went into effect in 2013, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

However, opponents of the legislation are expected to raise the fact the federal government already maintains a similar registry for scrap vehicle purchases.

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference and said New Mexicans are tired of hearing about escalating theft rates.

“Every time you turn on the 10 o’clock news, you hear auto theft, auto theft, auto theft,” he said.

Other sponsors of the legislation are Reps. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque.