Thursday, October 30, 2003
Senate To Get Sex-Offender Bill
By Kate Nash and Loie Fecteau
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson's sex offender package is headed to the Senate after swiftly passing the House without an opposing vote Wednesday.
The House approved the bill 67-0 with less than 10 minutes of discussion on the floor. The bill would toughen sentencing and extend probation supervision, among other provisions.
"The citizens of New Mexico definitely will be safer once the governor signs this bill," said House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe.
Reps. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, and Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, sponsored the bill, which is a combination of several measures backed by the governor.
Richardson has said sex-crimes legislation is a priority in the special session that began Monday.
Swisstack said there was little floor debate on the measure passed Wednesday because lawmakers spent hours in committee working out the bill's details.
The legislation would not make changes to the state's Megan's Law, which requires offenders to register in a public database.
Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque and Rep. Dan Foley of Roswell, both Republicans, earlier this week proposed bills to expand and toughen the registration requirements, but the bills were tabled in committee. Foley complained the tabling of his measure was a purely partisan move by majority Democrats.
Richardson said he hoped the Senate would take action on the sex offender legislation today.
"It's critically important that we do that," Richardson said. "New Mexico must never again be considered a haven for sexual predators as it is today."
Park said the legislation was designed to make New Mexico sex offender laws among the toughest in the country.
"From now on," Park said at a news conference with Richardson, "if you come to New Mexico and you are a sexual predator, the message will be, 'Go home, get out, you are not welcome here.' ''
Bob Schwartz, Richardson's crime adviser, said the proposed sexual offender management board was modeled after one in Colorado.
"They will also be looking at going to an indeterminate sentencing system, which could result in lifetime sentences for sex offenders, as well as a civil commitment system," Schwartz said.
Richardson said he would not accept a sexual offender bill that does not contain mandatory minimum sentencing provisions as provided for in the House bill.
"Without mandatory minimum I will not sign the bill," Richardson said.
Increase parole and probation times from two and five years to up to 20 years and create a Sex Offender Management Board to identify and track sex offenders;
Create a minimum mandatory jail sentence of three years for criminal sexual penetration in the second degree when the minor is between 13 and 18;
Make kidnapping and committing a sex crime a first degree felony.