Compromise sought on bail-bonds amendment
SANTA FE — Several lawmakers are meeting behind the scenes to try to hammer out a compromise over competing pieces of legislation that would amend the state constitution to reform the bail system in New Mexico.
Earlier this week, sponsors of the two joint resolutions expressed cautious optimism about reaching an agreement. But a lobbyist for the bail-bonds industry said the two sides have not achieved any consensus.
"There's a lot of activity is going on behind the scenes," lobbyist J.D. Bullington told The New Mexican on Wednesday. "But as of right now there is no consensus. It's hard to compromise when you're trying to protect an industry that's under attack."
One measure, Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, already has passed the Senate and one House committee. It would allow judges to hold some violent criminals in jail without bail before trial and would allow some nonviolent indigent defendants to be released.
The other, House Joint Resolution 13, sponsored by Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, does not contain the provision about indigent defendants.
In a statement released by House Republicans on Wednesday, Adkins said he has asked House leaders "to suspend action on my resolution as we negotiate so we can move forward on one bill, SJR 1." Adkins' measure had passed two House committees and has been awaiting a House floor hearing.
"It's always good news anytime different parties are talking," Wirth said in an interview.
While the main opposition to Wirth's resolution is coming from the bail-bonds industry, a diverse coalition is supporting Wirth's resolution.
Both House floor leaders, Republican Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Democrat Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, are strong supporters of the measure. Others who have spoken in favor of the resolution include the New Mexico District Attorney's Association, the Law Offices of the Public Defender, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, various judges and county officials from around the state.
Supporters of Wirth's amendment say that Adkins' measure, as written, has no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The proposed amendment passed the Senate with a 29-9 vote. Earlier this week it passed the House Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote.
But it still has two more House committees to get through before it goes to the House floor.
Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who is carrying SJR 1 in the House, said Wednesday he is not sure he has the votes to get the bill through the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee.
Bullington and other bail bonds industry representatives testified Monday before the House Judiciary Committee. All said they did not object to the part of the amendment that would deny bail to violent criminals. But they oppose the second part of Wirth's proposed amendment. That part says, "A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond."
Bullington said this clause is "part of a national agenda to have the bail system declared unconstitutional." Bill supporters strongly deny that.
According to a fiscal impact report on the resolution by the Legislative Finance Committee, Wirth's proposal could save county governments $18 million annually. Adkins' amendment, according to its fiscal report, would cost counties about $2.9 million over three years.