Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Governor signs bills on policing, parole, and children in custody

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed three pieces of legislation related to the criminal legal system in the state, and advocates are hoping she signs more before her deadline on Friday.

Nayomi Valdez, director of public policy for the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she and others are grateful for the efforts made during this year’s legislative session to enact meaningful criminal legal reform.

By and large, the Legislature rejected tough-on-crime policies “that we know don’t work,” Valdez said. That included a proposal that would have made it easier for prosecutors to hold people in jail pending trial.

Now, lawmakers need to take the next step of embracing bold reform and investment, Valdez said, in diversion programs and prison reform.

“I think the Legislature showed us that we’re ready to reject one ideology, the question is, what are we ready to pursue?” Valdez said.

Lujan Grisham has until this Friday to sign or veto legislation. Anything she doesn’t act on by then will be “pocket-vetoed.”

Police violence

New Mexico has one of the highest rates of police killings in the country, which Valdez said is an issue of public safety and officer safety.

“When there is fear and violence existing between law enforcement and the community, and that is just getting deepened and furthered all the time, the more dangerous it becomes for everybody, on all sides of the equation,” Valdez said.

Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 19/Senate Bill 252 which establishes a statewide use of force standard for all police in New Mexico, and requires new training, policies and procedures for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, a division that oversees the New Mexico State Police.

SB 19 and SB 252 were combined into one piece of legislation, and both bills got “significantly reduced” as a result, Valdez said.

“It is certainly not the comprehensive bill that we were pushing for initially,” Valdez said.

Still, Valdez said Senate Bill 252 is “fairly comprehensive,” and has more detailed provisions than language in state law when it comes to police use of force, Valdez said.

The bill would establish a duty to intervene, create a database to track police misconduct or excessive use of force, and require police who see another officer using force which they believe to be excessive to report the incident to their supervisor.

The bill would also require police to use de-escalation when reasonable and available, Valdez said, and would clarify the definition of a chokehold.

Advocates have learned lessons about how to approach police about this kind of legislation, Valdez said. Within certain police circles, there is a real desire to understand the problem and deal with it head on, she said.

“This was, I think, a year of progress, but certainly not where we need to be, and we’re gonna keep working on it,” Valdez said.

Drug possession

Advocates say locking people up for technical or minor violations doesn’t help the person who committed the offense or New Mexico communities.

Two sentencing reform bills which would keep New Mexico from incarcerating so many people for simple drug possession await the governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 187 would no longer allow courts to count a drug possession charge or a DWI charge from another jurisdiction when considering sentencing someone as a “habitual offender.”

Senate Bill 84 would revise the state’s probation and parole system and tie punishments to the severity of the violation — rather than the crime that originally sent them to prison.

Other bills signed

Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the governor, said Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 29, which would make it easier for some incarcerated people to get parole for medical and geriatric reasons; and Senate Bill 388, which would raise the minimum age at which a child may be held in state custody or detained from 11 years to 12.

The governor has also signed Senate Bill 310, which could divert more people from the criminal legal system into services by allowing police to bring people to crisis triage centers for voluntary treatment by a mental health professional.

Already signed into law:

  • House Bill 4 expands voting rights for people convicted of felonies
  • Senate Bill 43 makes it a crime to intimidate the Secretary of State, county and municipal clerks, or their employees
  • Senate Bill 47 no longer requires the Motor Vehicle Division to suspend someone’s driver’s license for failing to appear in court or not paying a penalty
  • Senate Bill 64 abolishes life without parole as a sentencing option for children
  • House Bill 141 creates a new specialty license plate to recognize the family and friends of police killed while on duty
  • Senate Bill 145 increases pension benefits for state police and state prison guards
  • House Bill 175 allows crime reduction grants to be used for digitization of records and improved statewide data integration
  • Senate Bill 215 creates the crimes of bestiality, promoting bestiality, and aggravated bestiality
  • Senate Bill 248 makes a series of changes to state probate courts
  • House Bill 269 requires the Motor Vehicle Division to use results from the commercial driver’s license drug and alcohol clearinghouse to determine whether a someone is qualified to obtain or renew a commercial driver’s license or commercial learner’s permit
  • House Bill 314 allows for automatic expungement of all records relating to criminal charges related to cannabis, including records related to other offenses also included in a conviction
  • Senate Bill 368 allows police to withhold body camera video recorded while they are undercover or when they handle explosives
  • House Bill 389 makes state ID cards free for unhoused people
  • Senate Bill 425 creates a fund for medication-assisted treatment in county jails and state prisons, and requires state prisons to provide the treatment within the next three years

Looking forward to the interim

Over the interim, the ACLU of New Mexico will be working to generate ideas and broadening the public’s understanding of what public safety is, and what it needs to entail, Valdez said.

Valdez said she would not be surprised if crime ends up on the call for the next legislative session.

“We are taking the next few months to do everything we can to continue collaboration, education, and make sure the folks who represent us know and feel supported in their efforts to enact meaningful change when it comes to public safety,” Valdez said.

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