ALBUQUERQUE – Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vowed Wednesday to work with state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address New Mexico’s crime problems, a situation she described as untenable.
The state's largest city has had back-to-back years of record homicides and some residents in Albuquerque and elsewhere have complained about not feeling safe in their communities. Retail crime also has been on the rise, with businesses losing millions of dollars to smash-and-grab schemes.
Pointing to the recent mass shootings in California and past shootings in New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said no one should be fearful about sending their children to school or about going to work. She did not specifically mention the recent drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democratic politicians in Albuquerque.
The governor, who is starting her second term, was flanked by state lawmakers and law enforcement officials during a news conference at the state Capitol as she outlined her public safety priorities.
“We are building a public safety investment strategy for the short term and the long term in this state,” she said. “That’s going to take every single one of us every single day in a number of ways. And we’re going to work collectively to get as many of the best ideas up here as possible.”
Her comments came just days after a judge ordered Solomon Peña held without bond pending trial on charges that he allegedly orchestrated a series of shootings at four Democratic officials’ homes following his unsuccessful GOP bid for the state house in November. A political newcomer, Peña's has a criminal history that includes felony burglary and larceny convictions.
No one was hurt in the shootings, but the case has reignited the debate over pretrial detention.
Gun control legislation will be among the most debated, with Democratic lawmakers calling for tough penalties for parents and others who let guns fall into the hands of children. Just last week, the governor in her State of the State address also called for a ban on the sale of assault weapons – without defining what weapons would be included – and legislation that would allow victims of gun violence to bring lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
Republican lawmakers have urged caution against passing legislation that would violate the New Mexico Constitution, which is even broader than the U.S. Constitution when it comes to the right to bear arms.
House Minority Leader Ryan Lane said fellow GOP lawmakers are focused on legislation aimed at stopping felons from buying firearms, ensuring that career criminals are not released prematurely and targeting retail crime and other schemes that fund crime syndicates.
“It's an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said. “This is one area where I think we need to seriously say, 'Put politics aside, let's evaluate each idea, each proposal. If it's a good idea that fixes a problem, let's get it done.'”
Joseph Cervantes, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said one of the Legislature's tasks will be looking at laws already passed to see if they're working. He said the solution isn't always passing more laws.
An effort to tighten requirements for pretrial release of people charged with violent crimes had failed last year despite growing public discontent about what has been perceived as a “revolving door” in the criminal justice system.
Sen. Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat, is supporting a bill that would apply “a better filter” for determining which defendants are most dangerous and should remain behind bars pending trial. She said defendants accused of murder, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and crimes committed with a firearm would be on the list.