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Broad crime bill wins legislative approval in New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — A broad suit of crime-fighting initiatives won approval Thursday as New Mexico grapples with concerns about a surge in violent crime in Albuquerque and beyond.

The bill is the Legislature’s response to calls by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for a hardline response to frustrations with crime as she campaigns for reelection in November.

It would expand surveillance of criminal defendants as they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle-bracelet tracking devices. Legislators balked at proposals from the governor and prosecutors sexual to ban pretrial release for people accused of certain violent and crimes.

The bill would expand the ranks of state district judges, boost retention pay for municipal police and sheriff’s deputies and bestow million-dollar death benefits for relatives of police killed in the line of duty.

The legislation sets out requirements for crime reduction grants that pursues alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration and expands intervention programs to rein in gun violence.

The crime bill also expands police training to help officers cope better with stress, interactions with the homeless and techniques for de-escalating confrontations involving police.

And it revamps oversight of police misconduct investigations under a new nine-member board appointed by the governor that law enforcement officers, a judge, a civil rights attorney and public and private-sector criminal defense lawyers.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the bill should have quick and long-lasting effects on policing and crime rates.

“When we add ankle-bracelet monitoring, 24-hours, seven days a week statewide — those are going to have immediate effects,” he said. “The long-term perspective is (that) violence prevention grants, law enforcement training, law enforcement retention, those are going to take a great deal of time.”

The bill wraps in new criminal penalties aimed at protecting state and local judges and their immediate families from threats and the malicious sharing of personal information such as home addresses. That provision responds to concerns not only about the physical safety of judges but also efforts to sway or disrupt judicial proceedings.

Criminal penalties are enhanced for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, brandishing a weapon in commission of an illegal drug transaction and aggravated enforcement fleeing a law under certain circumstances.

On Wednesday, the Democratic-led annual Legislature approved a record-setting $1 billion budget increase that bolsters spending on public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and an array of grants, loans and tax breaks to private industry.

The budget bill provides for $8.48 billion in general fund spending plan for the fiscal year starting on July 1 — a 14% increase over current-year spending. Lujan Grisham supports major provisions and can veto any part.

Separately, the state Senate advanced a half-billion dollar package of tax rebates, cuts and credits to a decisive House floor debate, along with package of crime-fighting initiatives. The Legislature has until 12 pm Thursday to approve legislation before adjourning.

The budget builds on a windfall in state government income from surging oil production and federal pandemic aid.

Salary increases of at least 7% are scheduled for school district and state government staff across the state, with a minimum hourly wage of $15 for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers.

Annual spending on K-12 public education would increase by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost. Annual Medicaid spending would increase by about $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government winds down pandemic-related subsidies to the program that gives free health care to the impoverished.

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