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N.M. Gets Tough on Predators

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— Gov. Bill Richardson signed a tough sex-offender bill into law Tuesday while legislators debated a $1.6 billion transportation package that included several tax and fee increases.
    With senators returning to a special session after abruptly adjourning Friday, lawmakers met into the night on the transportation measure pushed by Richardson, who earlier acted on the sex-offender law.
    "New Mexico is declaring war on sexual predators as of this moment," Richardson said at the bill-signing ceremony at the Capitol.
    The measure, which will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, provides for tougher penalties and increased supervision of convicted sex offenders and creates a sex-offender management board to identify and track sex offenders.
    The new law includes provisions sought by Richardson to raise mandatory minimum probation and parole periods for convicted sex offenders to five years, with maximum sentences of up to 20 years. Current maximums are two years for parole and five years for probation.
    Reps. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, and Ron Godbey, R-Cedar Crest, were the chief backers of the measure, which cleared both the House and Senate last week without a dissenting vote.
    Park on Tuesday said the new law would send a message to out-of-state sex offenders that they are not welcome in New Mexico.
    "If you come to New Mexico, you will be dealt with and you will be dealt with harshly," Park said.
    The governor said the law would be known as "Marissa's Law," named for 16-year-old Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler of Santa Fe, who was killed in July at the Sunshine Theater in Albuquerque. A janitor who had been convicted of raping a 4-year-old and who was given probation rather than being sent to prison has been charged.
    Richardson called the new law "landmark legislation."
    Richardson also vowed to tackle other crime problems, such as drunken driving and methamphetamine use, when legislators convene their 30-day regular session in January.
    The Democratic governor signed the measure after senators returned to the Capitol on Tuesday.
    Meanwhile, the $1.6 billion package would finance 40 road, rail and other transportation projects across the state by issuing bonds. It includes several proposed state tax and fee increases to generate an estimated $60.3 million a year for the state's Road Fund.
    The legislation includes provisions to raise a tax on trucks by 38 percent; increase the tax on diesel and other "special fuels" from 18 cents a gallon to 21 cents a gallon; and raise annual motor-vehicle registration fees, which vary according to weight and age categories, by an average of $12.50.
    Richardson on Tuesday described the bill as an economic development measure that would result in thousands of new jobs and said the tax and fee increases were "reasonable."
    "I believe it's a modest package," Richardson said.
    The bill contains several Albuquerque area projects, including:
   
  • Widening Interstate 25 to three lanes in each direction between Tramway and Bernalillo, then studying whether to extend the extra lanes to Santa Fe or create public transportation, such as bus or commuter rail service, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
       
  • Reconstructing the I-40-Coors Boulevard interchange.
       
  • Reconstructing and improving I-40 from Central Avenue to Coors Boulevard.
       
  • Extending Rio Bravo Boulevard to provide access to the Journal Pavilion.
        Richardson initially had planned the special session, which began Oct. 27, to focus solely on tax issues. But the governor backed off his push to get his comprehensive tax package approved during the special session in the wake of the Senate walkout Friday.