© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     1/20/20
Two governors, two sessions, two approaches
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            Starting this week, the second legislative session of the current governor bears some resemblance to the second session of the previous governor.
            In both cases, the winners entered with what they considered mandates and immediately launched their priorities.
          For former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, that included driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, teacher evaluations, school grading, more standardized testing of students, and a cap on film incentives.
          For Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, it includes education reform, early childhood programs, marijuana legalization, red-flag gun laws, and pension reform.
          While legislative leaders, all Dems, complained in 2012 that Martinez had so much on her to-do list for a 30-day session that they feared an unproductive logjam, nobody’s complaining about Lujan Grisham’s equally long list because this year, they all have the same to-do list.
          Martinez’s hot button issue was getting rid of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. I wrote at the time that, while it was an issue, it was a minor issue, and New Mexico, wallowing in the Great Recession, had pressing problems. It was also terribly divisive. Martinez burned a lot of legislative time and her own political capital fighting over driver’s licenses.
          This session, the red-flag law may be the hot button issue for Lujan Grisham. It would allow the courts to issue extreme-risk protection orders so that police could take firearms away temporarily from people who might hurt themselves or others.
           This hits you where you live. If you live in Albuquerque, torn by gun violence, and other big cities, the red-flag law is an urgent need. If your community isn’t a scene of regular gun violence, it’s not. The bill is carried by Albuquerque and Las Cruces legislators, and it’s a priority for the governor, who was a Bernalillo County Commissioner.
          Then we have our county sheriffs, who said they would refuse to enforce the new gun laws. I have a lot of respect for rural law enforcement, the men and women who often work in remote areas and form the thin line between civilization and lawlessness. But I don’t understand how people who are sworn to enforce the law can simply say they won’t enforce a particular law. This law would protect them as well.
          We need to see some compromise here. The governor, who prides herself on talking to all sides, hasn’t budged on this proposal. And Cibola County’s Sheriff Tony Mace, who heads the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, should understand that being a leader is more than being a tough guy.
          Another big item in 2012 and this year is transportation.
          Martinez attacked pet pork projects and called for statewide or regional projects. That’s well and good, and legislators do join for bigger projects, but if your county roads are falling apart and the county depends on the state for funding, that doesn’t work.
          Last year the Legislature created a fund for local transportation-related projects. This year there’s a bill to create a trust fund to pay for a variety of projects. Two of the sponsors are Reps. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, and Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos. They tried for years to get road funding, usually from small increases in the gasoline tax, but bills didn’t survive the Martinez vetoes.
          Gonzales, newly appointed to the Senate, was for years chair of the House Transportation Committee. He’s been a tireless advocate of road funding. Lundstrom chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, so the two have the knowledge and the means. In a year when Republicans are reminding lawmakers to spend and save wisely, the trust fund idea is both. The bill provides steady funding for transportation, but a provision allows the Legislature to tap the fund in down years.
          Old hands at the Roundhouse will find that the faces may change but the issues and dynamics remain the same.


Sherry Robinson photo

Let’s fix the bail bond situation
By Merilee Dannemann

Triple Spaced Again
When New Mexico passed the bail bond amendment in 2016, I thought it was simple. The language, which amended the state Constitution, seemed so straightforward.
“Bail may be denied pending trial if, after a hearing, the court finds … that no release conditions will reasonably ensure the appearance of the person as required or protect the safety of any other person or the community ... No person eligible for pretrial release … shall be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”
In other words, arrested criminal suspects who pose no danger will not be confined to jail awaiting trial, but suspects who do appear to be dangerous will be kept in jail even if they can pay bond.
This replaces the old system under which a low-risk defendant with no money might be held in jail for months, while risky defendants who could make bail would go free until trial.
But the new system has been controversial. Some critics argue that too many defendants are being let out and committing crimes, perhaps not violent but still a threat to public safety.
Under the new system, judges are supposed to evaluate suspected offenders based in part on a nationally verified measurement tool called the Arnold Public Safety Assessment, which compares the person’s record to a set of criteria and predicts the likelihood that this individual will fail to appear in court, commit another crime, or commit a violent crime.
A study released in November 2019 by UNM’s Institute for Social Research – limited to Bernalillo County – found 4 percent of released defendants were accused of committing a new violent crime and 17 percent were accused of committing a crime of some kind.
Whether that’s an acceptable result or not is a matter of opinion.
Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque) finds it unacceptable. He’s introduced legislation (HB 32) to clarify the criteria for pretrial release. We will learn this week whether the bill is approved by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for this year’s 30-day session.
Rehm’s bill says no person shall be released if the charge is a first degree felony or a serious violent offense and if the person was previously convicted of any felony or has previously violated conditions of pretrial release for any offense. The bill also provides for drug rehabilitation while incarcerated.
The restrictions seem so reasonable that I’m surprised Rehm felt it was necessary to legislate this. Shouldn’t these criteria have applied all along? Rehm said the current guidelines do not require a judge to consider a defendant’s past record.
Apparently Rehm is not the only one dissatisfied.
The State Supreme Court has convened a high-level, 15-member committee to review pretrial detention procedures. The committee’s initial report is to be submitted by March 31, a month after the legislative session ends.
Rehm has been appointed to the committee but wants to go ahead with his legislation anyway and expects support from other legislators.
It does society no good when nonthreatening defendants are kept in jail before trial. Public defender Richard Pugh, in a recent talk, explained that being stuck in jail throws a person’s life into chaos. The defendant may lose his job, be unable to care for children, be unable to pay the most basic bills and so lose his home – tragic losses that benefit nobody and add to the community’s social burden.
And – a point I have not heard anyone raise – we’d have less detention if we had speedier trials, but that would require investing a heck of a lot of money in our judicial system, and even with our current flush budgets that’s not going to happen.
New Mexico did the right thing in passing the bail bond amendment. We just have to keep tinkering with the implementation to get the balance right.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.

Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.