SANTA FE, N.M. — The Latest on a special legislative session in New Mexico (all times local):
The New Mexico House of Representatives is starting committee deliberations on three criminal justice bills designed to expand mandatory sentences and reinstate the death penalty.
The Republican-controlled House focused its first policy discussion of a special legislative session on the tough-handed reforms backed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The bills were filed partly in response to the recent killings of two police officers and the horrific sexual assault and killing 10-year-old Victoria Martens in Albuquerque.
Democrats say the anti-crime initiatives are being used to distract public attention away from economic issues and the state budget shortfall, the other topic of the special session.
Republicans want to expand New Mexico’s three-strikes law requiring a life sentence for criminals with three or more violent felony convictions and require mandatory life sentences for people convicted of intentional child abuse resulting in death, regardless of a child’s age. The death penalty proposal would apply to convicted killers of police, children and corrections officers.
The New Mexico Legislature has sworn in two new members during a special session.
Republican Sen. James White of Albuquerque started work in the Senate on Friday to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Sue Wilson Beffort. In the House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Harry Garcia of Grants took the oath of office to take the place of retired lawmaker Ken Martinez.
White previously served in the House from 2009 through 2014. There are 18 Republicans and 24 Democrats in the New Mexico Senate. The House has 37 Republicans and 33 Democrats.
The New Mexico state Legislature has convened for a special session to resolve a major budget shortfall and consider stiffer criminal sentencing laws.
The session began Friday and set the stage for public debate on taxes and government spending and the emotionally charged issue of capital punishment ahead of November general elections that could shift the balance of power in the New Mexico Legislature. Republicans are defending a House majority, and Democrats control the Senate.
New Mexico finished the budget year in June with a $131 million deficit after exhausting operating reserves, as a sustained downturn in energy markets cut into state revenues and rippled through the economy. At last count, the $6.2 billion general fund spending plan for the current year exceeds estimated revenues by $458 million.
Democratic lawmakers in the New Mexico House of Representatives are proposing a balanced budget plan that would cut most state agency funding by a little over 1 percent as the Legislature reconvenes for a special session.
House Democratic minority leader Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Friday that the blueprint for addressing a major budget shortfall would exempt public safety and child protection programs from cuts, while suspending ongoing reductions to the corporate income tax rate. Most of the budget gap would be filled by one-time balance transfers.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants approved reductions to corporate income taxes to stay in place. The House is controlled by a Republican majority, though Democrats say their cooperation is needed on budget provisions for a two-thirds majority vote to speed implementation.