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Criminal Justice Top Priority at Roundhouse

The 30-day 2018 New Mexico legislative session begins in Santa Fe on Tuesday with crime and violence set to get plenty of attention. (
The 30-day 2018 New Mexico legislative session begins in Santa Fe on Tuesday with crime and violence set to get plenty of attention. (
January 15, 2018

SANTE FE, N.M -- The 2018 legislative session starts tomorrow, and Gov. Susana Martinez said she plans to push legislation that would grant legal immunity to New Mexico police officers for actions in the line of duty.

The Republican governor said law enforcement officers should not face threats from lawsuits, but instead be shielded from them - provided they're adhering to training. Steven Allen, director of public policy for the New Mexico ACLU, said it's a puzzling proposal, because few police officers ever are convicted, despite public outrage.

"In Albuquerque specifically, it's been almost impossible to hold police officers accountable for excessively using force against citizens, in violation of our Constitution,” Allen said.

New Mexico's Legislature is currently controlled by Democrats, but Republicans plan to also push to reinstate the death penalty when state lawmakers convene.

State Representative Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque, said she will file legislation proposing the death penalty be reinstated for murders involving children, police or correctional officers. New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009.

A fiscal analysis of a similar bill proposed in 2016 found that reinstating executions could cost the state more than $7 million a year. But heading into an election year and with New Mexico's violent crime rate now second in the nation, law-and-order is a likely hot button for the Legislature.

Allen said the ACLU opposed a death penalty bill in 2016, and will take the same position this year.

"Any attempt to reinstate the death penalty is a distraction and a waste of our time and certainly a waste of our money,” he said. "New Mexico has to do better than that."

During the 30-day session, lawmakers will also focus on how to increase spending on public education, Medicaid, public-safety agencies and economic-development incentives.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM