Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Crime bill must be balanced, thought out


December 19, 2018

The 60-day legislative session in Santa Fe is still a few weeks away, but lawmakers are already crafting laws New Mexico residents will need to keep an eye on.

Among the proposed bills is a massive “omnibus” crime package being crafted by Democratic state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Republican Sen. Sander Rue.

Their proposal would touch on a host of crime initiatives. The bills are still in development and, as with all legislation, the devil will be in the details.

And it bears noting that although pieces passed both chambers last session, they were vetoed by the governor and her rationale is worth examining.

That said, several parts of the bill look promising:

• The pre-prosecution diversion piece would add flexibility to put nonviolent offenders into probation-like programs with drug testing and other conditions, giving defendants an incentive as they avoid indictment upon completion.

n An expanded good Samaritan law would extend immunity to those on probation or parole to report an overdose.

• The requirement for a needs and risk assessment on probation or parole violators because of a failed drug test or technical violation would replace an automatic trip back to prison. This should apply to first violations, not repeats.

• The provision allowing prisoners to request a DNA test if their convictions did not involve one.

All need to be crafted so they are not easily abused and don’t overburden the state’s already taxed judicial system. All need a careful fiscal impact report. And victims deserve equal time with these defendant-centric proposals.

While the bill would expand eligibility for who can apply for state crime victim compensation, lawmakers need to balance the needs of all in the legal system. To that end, they should consider prior legislation to see what deserves another look:

• Lawmakers still haven’t passed a bill that does away with the statute of limitations on second-degree murder.

• The too-narrow “Three Strikes Law” has never been used. Lawmakers should finally expand it judiciously to target the worst repeat offenders.

• A return-to-work law would get more law enforcement officers on the street. Recent iterations protected state pensions — yet died in the Roundhouse.

• Then there are the organized gangs who steal $499 in merchandise to face a misdemeanor; out-of-control auto theft; rampant theft of wire and metal that burdens businesses and puts people in danger; and the ongoing need to address the root causes of crime, poverty, homelessness, etc., in a coordinated way that delivers results in the form of improved lives and livelihoods.

Maestas, an attorney, said the overarching goal is to combat crime, and an omnibus bill “sends a strong message to the people of New Mexico that crime is our top priority.”

It will, if it balances victims’ needs with defendants’ and is worded carefully to avoid unintended consequences. Battling crime has to be a top priority of the legislative class of 2019 — but each piece, separate or combined, must be well-thought-out before becoming law.

— Albuquerque Journal


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