SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In a debate that went late into the early morning hours, New Mexico’s legislators considered how to deal with New Mexico’s most serious under-18-years-old criminal offenders. Ultimately, the House of Representatives decided that all youth who commit crimes deserve a chance at rehabilitation.
Senate Bill 64, sponsored by Democratic legislators, would prohibit life sentences without the chance at parole for young offenders. The bill would retroactively apply to all offenders currently serving time for crimes they committed as youth, according to an analysis.
Behind the bill is the feeling that those who commit crimes as children deserve empathy. “One of the things that I have found throughout my life . . . is that the concept of empathy and forgiveness is not just a legal one. It’s also a religious one, a righteous one, and truthfully, a painfully human one,” Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D-Abq.) said during debate on the House floor. “That’s what I love about this bill.”
Others expressed reservations that everyone should get a second chance. Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo) tried to amend the bill to create an exception for people convicted of mass shootings. In other words, Block’s proposed amendment sought to allow courts to sentence young mass shooters to life in prison without parole.
The amendment was rejected by the majority of the House. Supporters of the bill at large pointed out that the legislation doesn’t mean young offenders will be paroled, it only means that they must have the opportunity for a parole hearing. They can still be denied parole during that hearing.
Debate on the bill lasted into the early hours of Sunday, March 13. Ultimately, the bill passed the House on a 37-to-25 vote. Now, the Governor has until April 7 to decide if the bill becomes law.