Bail constitutional amendment compromise clears House

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SANTA FE (KRQE) – A revamped version of a constitutional amendment that would let judges keep dangerous suspects behind bars without bail while creating a pathway for those who can’t afford bail to get released cleared the House on a bipartisan vote.

SJR 1, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, was approved by the House 69-0. It now needs the Senate to concur on changes made as part of a compromise to get the bail bond industry, which had originally opposed the measure, to get on board. If the Senate concurs, voters would get a chance to weigh in during the November elections.

The measure includes two provisions.

One allows a judge to hold a felony suspect shown by clear and convincing evidence to be so dangerous that no release conditions could keep them from hurting someone or the community.

Originally, the second provision required that a person who is only being jailed because they can’t afford bond be released. That second provision was amended significantly so that a person being held only because of bail could file a motion with a judge to be released because they can’t afford bond.

“It keeps dangerous folks in jail pending trial and it frees up resources for the counties,” said House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque at a news conference called to announce the compromise last week.

“Jail should be for dangerous people, not poor people,” said Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, while presenting SJR 1 on the House floor.

The change of language to the second provision was enough to get the bail bond industry and some skeptical Republican lawmakers, including the sponsor of a rival measure Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, to change their tune on SJR 1.

However, at least two major groups who had been backing the bill chose to withdraw their support for it on Monday.

“These amendments could perpetuate a system that negatively impacts poor people, needlessly extending the time they spend behind bars and filling our jails with individuals who are not an actual public threat or flight risk,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU of New Mexico in a news release.

“The original bill addressed the disparity and fundamental unfairness that allows the wealthy to post a bond while the common citizen sits in jail waiting for a trial,” said Matt Coyte, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “This new version no longer holds true to that goal.”

The Senate has until Thursday at noon to concur with the changes made in the House and send SJR 1 to voters.

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