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Lawmakers rebuff governor on bail reform


In 2016, New Mexico voters passed a constitutional amendment to end the unfair practice of cash bonds after an arrest.

A bond is different from a fine, which is a form of punishment imposed following a conviction. A bond is meant to ensure compliance with court orders and attendance at all hearings. It is then returned following the trial.

But for those who can’t pay the bond, the impact is the same as conviction without a trial. And so, New Mexico is one of several states that have reformed our system of pretrial detention.

The question now is if that reform has gone too far, allowing for dangerous criminals to be returned to the streets immediately after they have been arrested. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham argues that it has.

“I will not stand by as repeat violent offenders walk in and out of our courthouse without consequences, “ Lujan Grisham said in a recent press release.

New Mexico lawmakers, at least those in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, disagree. They tabled Senate Bill 122, which is supported by Lujan Grisham and sponsored by Republicans Craig Brandt and Mark Moores. It would have made it more difficult for those charged with felonies involving guns or resulting in great bodily harm or death to be paroled.

The bill seeks to change what the law refers to as rebuttable presumption. That means the judge goes into the case presuming that one side is right, unless the other side can prove otherwise. The presumption now favors the defendant.

Lujan Grisham made bail reform a part of her larger public safety package, and began advocating for it before the start of the session. But, this is the third time legislation has failed to make it through the committee process.

The Fiscal Impact Report on the bill clearly reflects the thinking of the Legislature. It talks about how expensive passage would be, and goes so far as to assert, “It is unclear whether any crimes will actually be prevented through incapacitation due to greater detention.”

Really? If putting people who commit violent, dangerous crimes in jail doesn’t prevent more violent, dangerous crimes, we need to rethink this whole model.

There are legitimate questions as to whether the proposed changes would be allowed under the provisions of the constitutional amendment. But, voters were assured prior to the 2016 election that reforming the system would not mean releasing dangerous offenders back onto the streets.

Lujan Grisham is swimming against the tide on this one. The previous two bills both had Democrats among the sponsors. This year’s bill does not. And, the governor will soon be entering the lame-duck phase of her final term.

But this is an issue voters should ask questions about later this year, when all seats in the House and Senate are up for re-election.

There is some good news on the governor’s public safety package. The House has passed a bill that would require a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a gun. The original bill called for a 14-day wait.

The bill moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who has sponsored similar legislation.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. Walter Rubel's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.