SANTA FE, N.M. — A bi-partisan package of proposals meant to curb crime and bring reforms to the state’s criminal justice system cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday,
The House Judiciary Committee approved the omnibus package of public safety bills that next goes to the House Floor for a vote.
It includes six bills, including one that would push jails and prisons to screen more inmates for substance abuse and mental illness. The measure also would require the correctional facilities to connect the inmates with treatment services.
Reps. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, say the intent of the bill is to reduce recidivism. It comes in contrast to other high-profile proposals in recent years that focused more on toughening criminal penalties and lengthening sentences than bolstering a framework for treating and reforming inmates, especially non-violent, low-level offenders.
“Penalty enhancements alone are not going to solve the problem,” said Gentry, who is the Republican House minority leader House. “I’m tired of beating my head against the wall with legislation that won’t pass.”
Gentry said he worked closely with the Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf to bundle together evidence-based legislation that can “move the needle” on public safety.
Among the other bills included in the package:
— A proposal to provide bonuses to veteran police officers. The measure sponsored by Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, is meant to increase the number of officers on the streets.
— A bill to enhance penalties for felons in possession of a firearm. It also is proposed by Gentry.
— A bill from Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque, to add requirements for people with drunken driving convictions to have an ignition interlock device removed from their vehicle and get their driver’s license reinstated.
— A push from Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, to reduce penalties for low-level infractions like littering and improperly displaying a license plate. Lawmakers say the measure would allow prosecutors and public defenders to put additional time and resources toward more serious offenses.