Lawmakers approve three anti-crime laws

Mary Hudetz
The Associated Press
Alan and Veronica Garcia, parents of Lilly Garcia, a 4-year-old killed in a road-rage shooting last year, listen to New Mexico lawmakers discuss a "three-strikes" proposal aimed at violent offenders on Jan. 21 in Santa Fe.

SANTA FE — Lawmakers approved three pieces of anti-crime legislation Thursday in eleventh-hour votes that propose allowing judges to access violent crime suspects' juvenile records, and hand down stricter sentences for habitual DWI offenders and child pornographers.

The bills won passage on the Senate and House floors on the legislative session's last day. It's now up to the governor to sign the bills for final approval.

All three proposals were part of a tough-on-crime agenda backed largely by Gov. Susana Martinez and House Republicans who had introduced some two dozen criminal justice and sentencing measures at the start of the 30-day session in Santa Fe, but saw only a handful win final legislative approval.

"I refuse to have an unsafe state," Martinez said after the session adjourned. "For me, we're going to continue to fight for tough laws and continue to fight for those New Mexicans that are demanding a safe community."

Senate Democrats let the clock run out on Republican's revamp of a three-strikes sentencing law and voted down their proposal to let cities set teen curfews, citing concerns the bills would pose unforeseen prison costs at a time when the state faces plummeting revenues and much of the country is focused on lowering mass incarceration rates.

"We rejected mistaken efforts by Republicans to pass new 'three strikes' penalties that would increase mass incarceration in New Mexico, even as other states move in the opposite direction," said Sen. Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat and the Senate Majority floor leader.

He was blamed by Republicans for the demise of many of their crime measures. But at a news conference, he touted passage of a constitutional amendment for bail reform and legislation that allows sexual assault victims to request a protective order after their attackers' prison release without having to appear in court.

Both bills were carried by Senate Democrats.

The three-strikes proposal sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, an Albuquerque Republican, had been a central piece of legislation in his party's anti-crime agenda that were tied to fatal shootings that made national and local headlines, including the killing of Lilly Garcia, the 4-year-old victim of a road rage dispute.

House Republicans introduced his measure as "Lilly's Law," while the bill to allow judge's access to suspect's juvenile criminal records was named "Jaydon's Law" for a 17-year-old victim of a drive-by shooting last year in Albuquerque.

"We have vowed not to let our children's deaths be in vain," said Nicole Chavez, Jaydon's mother, after the legislation named for her son won final legislative approval.

Pacheco vowed to take up the three-strikes legislation again next year if re-elected.

While the bill fizzled in the Senate, debate over child pornography and DWI sentencing enhancements grew heated in the session's final days.

Sen. George Munoz, a Gallup Democrat, successfully pressed for an amendment to the child pornography bill to say sexting between two consenting and willing teenagers couldn't be prosecuted under the legislation.

The move prompted a state prosecutor to walk out of a committee hearing in protest, and Attorney General Hector Balderas — an early advocate for the legislation — to quickly say he was withdrawing his support of the legislation as amended.

He argued the amendment meant to guard teens from prosecution over graphic text messages was a "dangerous loophole" that actually made them more vulnerable to predators.

The governor's office said she also shared concerns about the amendment but would consider the bill in its entirety.

"There's no question that the legislation is an important, significant step forward in providing much tougher penalties for possessing, distributing, and manufacturing child pornography," Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement.

The bill was given unanimous approval by both chambers in votes late Wednesday and early Thursday.