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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Domestic Violence Addressed

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE For years, it was difficult to get state lawmakers interested in anti-domestic-violence legislation.
    But not at this Legislative session, where a series of proposals could change how the state deals with one of its biggest problems.
    "I think people are beginning to take this seriously," said Agnes Maldonado of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
    "It affects a lot of us, our children, and we can't have this anymore. It affects our dropout rate, our teenage pregnancy rate. It's all interrelated," she said.
    If approved, the bills would fine abusers to pay for their own treatment and use DWI grant fund money to help domestic violence abusers who also misuse alcohol. One measure signed by Gov. Bill Richardson earlier this week would allow immigrants to obtain a driver's license with a taxpayer identification number instead of a Social Security number.
    While the bill (HB 173) appears to just help immigrants drive safely, activists say it would help some women immigrants drive to safety, Maldonado said.
    "Victims come and get into abusive situations and can't drive or get away," she said.
    The measure by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, is just one of several that has lawmakers dealing with violence and its impacts.
    "The basic laws are there," said House Majority Leader Danice Picraux. "But it's not enough to just send people to jail. We need to have treatment across state lines," she said.
    Recognizing that the state needs to improve its laws is a big step, say anti-domestic violence community leaders. Another step is the to-be-created commission on domestic violence, which Richardson said this week he'll create. First lady Barbara Richardson will head the panel.
    "That's huge," Maldonado said. "Having a first lady or governor on a commission can make a huge difference in the problem," she said.
    Other measures were making their ways through the process.
    One bill on Richardson's desk (SB 339) would require law-enforcement officials to notify a victim when an abuser is released from custody. Sen. Ramsay Gorham, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill.
    A bill approved by the House last week (HB 626) will mean New Mexico law-enforcement agents "will enforce (domestic violence protection orders) in the way it was written in another state," said Picraux, the bill's sponsor.
    Another House-approved measure (HB 190 and HB 257 committee substitute) allows funds from the state's DWI grant fund to be used to treat domestic violence perpetrators who also are alcoholics.
    "DWI and domestic violence share the same drive train and there's so much substance abuse that is really at the base of these crimes," Richardson said.
    The measure is sponsored by Picraux and Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque. It is pending on the Senate floor.
    "It used to be hard to get publicity about domestic violence," Picraux said. "Now we're seeing people paying attention to the problem."