agency by $10.9 million, a substantially deeper cut than Martinez had
Both Varela and the LFC vice-chairman, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said the proposed cut had nothing to do with the penalties that weren't assessed.
Said Smith: "It wasn't retribution."
Varela did say he was troubled by the lack of penalties and hoped the new administration would be more vigilant in watching out for contract violations by the private prison operators. "We need to have a better understanding in terms of what actions do they (the corrections agency) need to take when they go beyond the intended purpose of the contract," Varela said. "You know, ultimately, that profit goes to the private company."
Nonetheless, the LFC's proposed cut provoked a strong response from the governor.
"I just can't see any other way for that taking place (the budget cut) other than opening the doors for early release for some of the prisoners," Martinez said.
With a governor who has been a career prosecutor (and whose husband made his career in law enforcement), it's probably a sure bet there will be bills to get tougher on criminals.
Martinez is proposing that state law require DNA samples from those arrested and charged with any felony. This would strengthen Katie's Law, which was passed in 2006 in memory of a New Mexico State University student who was raped and murdered three years before. That law requires DNA samples only for those arrested in connection with certain felonies, such as murder, kidnapping, burglary and sex offenses.
But it won't always be easy to get crime bills to the governor's desk, even with the more conservative bent of the Legislature. The Senate committee process likely will be the burial ground for some tough-on-crime laws.
That was the case in 2009, with similar bills sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, that would have made it a felony to threaten judges and other court officials. Rehm's bill passed the House with wide bipartisan support but withered in the Senate. Wirth's measure was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both Wirth and Rehm have pre-filed similar bills for the upcoming session (SB 10 and House Bill 26.)
During the campaign, Martinez made an issue of her Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, supporting the repeal of the death penalty in 2009. There's a good chance there could be a bill this year to bring back capital punishment. The vote in the House will certainly be closer with all the new Republicans. And it's one big issue where the speakership could be a factor. House Speaker Ben Lujan supported the repeal while his likely challenger, Joe Cervantes, voted to keep the death penalty.
The House passed the repeal bill 40-28 in 2009. But, based on interviews with incoming freshman representatives, the pro-death-penalty side picked up a net gain of eight. (Seven Democrats who voted to repeal were defeated last year and are replaced by death-penalty supporters. One Republican who voted to repeal, Janice Arnold-Jones of Albuquerque, didn't seek re-election. She's being replaced by pro-death-penalty Republican Conrad James.
Assuming none of returning members changed their votes on the issue, that would work out to a floor vote of 36-32 in favor of capital punishment.
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