Governor signs bills on policing, parole, and children in custody
Other reforms on drug possession, parole violations, fees, and firearm sales await her signature
Police vehicles block traffic along Central in southeast Albuquerque on Thursday, July 14, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt / Source NM)
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.”
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.
Also sitting on the governor’s desk:
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.
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:
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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