SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Another busy day is set to begin at the Roundhouse. Today, Tuesday January 25, legislators will hear more budget presentations from various statewide departments. From the Department of Information Technology to the Secretary of the State, several broad-reaching state offices are set to speak.

New Mexico’s 2022 regular legislative session has already sparked some debate over key issues facing New Mexico’s communities. Monday January 24, the Senate Finance Committee heard a variety of perspectives on criminal justice in New Mexico. The idea of “rebuttable presumption” and “pretrial detention” were at the center of the discussion.

Both terms are used to describe what could be done with accused violent criminals before they face trial. Under the State Constitution, prosecutors — the people that try to put criminals in prison — can try to detain some accused criminals before trial, rather than releasing them on bail. The prosecutor is required to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community,” in order to have the accused criminal detained under the State Constitution.

The Governor has requested that the legislators consider House Bill 5, which would automatically presume that some accused criminals should be detained before trial. The accused criminal and their attorney could try to rebut the detention and prove that they are not a danger, hence the term “rebuttable presumption.” The bill would not apply to all accused criminals, but instead is directed towards serious violent offenders.

Yesterday, the House Government Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee discussed House Bill 5. Several members of the public presented before the committee.

“I love our state,” said Crystal Nash, a member of the New Mexico Crusaders for Justice — a support group for families of homicide victims. “I can’t think of a better place to live. However, our state’s direction in crime is causing me to seriously reconsider my options.” Criminals have “free range to commit crime without significant consequences. They are not being held accountable,” Nash said.

But some people were concerned that the bill would be minimally effective and have negative consequences. “This bill would actually prevent very few crimes from happening because pretrial release is a drop in the bucket,” explained Kim Chaves Cook, at the Law Offices of the Public Defender. “We cannot overlook the endangerment that incarcerating hundreds more people will have on those inmates.”

Also on the topic of criminal justice, yesterday the House Government Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee discussed House Bill 86. This bill would create a fund to provide bonuses to law enforcement officers. The idea behind the bill is to give one-time payments to officers when they reach five, 10, 15, and 20 years of service. Discussion of the bill centered on whether or not this would help retain officers across the state.

Public comment on House Bill 86 included those who supported the bill — generally because it shows support for officers and could help keep officers in New Mexico’s communities. “I can tell you from personal experience, it does work,” San Juan County Sheriff R. Shane Ferrari told legislators. “Recruitment is still extremely difficult,” he adds, so retention is key.

Other commenters, including LuzHilda Campos, the policy manager at Bold Futures, a non-profit that “leads policy change, research, place-based organizing, and culture shift by and for women and people of color in New Mexico,” opposed the bill to fund officer retention. “We must reimagine public safety and reduce crime by reinvesting the proposed funding in alternative emergency response programs,” Campos said.

Rep. William “Bill” R. Rehm (R-Abq.) pointed out the value of retaining officers, rather than trying to recruit new officers. He explained that retained officers are likely to have more experience than new officers. The bill passed the committee and will continue to move forward.

Water-related legislation on the table

  • Today, Tuesday January 25, the Senate Conservation Committee will meet to discuss a few bills related to New Mexico’s water.
  • They’ll consider Senate Bill 17, introduced by Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Fort Sumner, Portales). The bill would authorize funds for a handful of water storage, reuse, and delivery projects.
  • They’ll also consider Senate Bill 37, introduced by Nancy Rodriguez (D-Santa Fe). The bill would give more than $6 million to support federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 projects. The 1974 act is aimed at regulating and maintaining public drinking water supplies.

More budget meetings today

  • Today, Tuesday January 25, the Senate Finance Committee will continue to hear from various state agencies. The primary focus will be the budget for each respective agency.
  • This morning, the Department of Health, which has been at the center of the state’s COVID-19 response, will have a presentation. They are reportedly short more than 100 staff within the Public Health Division.
  • In the afternoon, several more departments will present. The Department of Information Technology, the Taxation and Revenue Department and the Department of Finance and Administration will each speak before the committee.
  • The Secretary of State’s office and the State Personnel Office will also present in the afternoon. The Secretary of State is charged with overseeing elections, voting, and business licensing. The Secretary of State is reporting a potential funding shortfall. In particular, with a shortfall of about $1.6 million from the previous fiscal year, the agency could have trouble funding elections in counties across the state.