By Andy Jackson
Local legislators are adamant about two bills they wrote that will hit the Roundhouse in upcoming weeks — separate yet connected propositions for mandatory drug sentencing and rehabilitation initiatives.
Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said he’s introducing a bill that would impose mandatory methamphetamine sentencing, to “get cooks out of the kitchen,” he said.
A need for state-wide mandatory sentencing for methamphetamine offenses is something 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler encouraged the senator to pursue, they said.
“Too many times across the state, methamphetamine cooks walk out with a slap on the wrist,” Chandler said. “It’s rare to see maximum sentences handed down by courts.”
Right now, judges have the discretion to sentence methamphetamine possessors and makers to anywhere from zero to nine years in jail, Chandler said.
Harden said stopping the distribution of methamphetamine is only one part of a social problem he hopes to legislatively alleviate this session.
Rehabilitation is the other piece, he said.
“It’s a holistic view,” Harden said to stop the distribution of drugs and treat victims of drug abuse.
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she will be proposing a bill soon for a drug rehabilitation initiative.
“We’re incarcerating people, but when they get out they still have a (drug) problem. We need to get to the root of the problem. I think we need reform. It hasn’t worked to this point,” Crook said
It’s an initiative that could lower recidivism and costs incurred to the state, she said.
“It’s something like $73 a day to house an inmate in the penal system,” Crook said.
Crook’s bill is modeled after an initiative in Ensenada, Mexico, where the recidivism rate is less than 10 percent, she said.
Gov. Bill Richardson will support the bills, Harden said.
“I think it’s the year, not just for money, but it’s also very high on the governor’s agenda. We’re stepping up to the plate when it comes to the distribution of drugs. The timing is perfect to get the executive and legislative branches to take meaningful steps,” Harden said.
Legislative sessions resume Monday in Santa Fe. And bills proposing drug courts in various judicial districts throughout New Mexico are on the docket.
Ninth Judicial District Court Teddy Hartley has been pushing for a drug court for approximately two years, he said.
There are 30 drug courts throughout the state and they have shown a decreased rate of recidivism, said Hartley, who spoke on the subject in front of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday and the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday — with favorable responses from both, he said.
Drug courts, Hartley said, would save significant money on incarceration expenses and return individuals to the mainstream with decreased rates of recidivism.
“The governor’s budget included drug courts as part of his recommendations. I believe we will get it and I’m excited and gratified,” Hartley said.
“We believe we’ll have the next one added (in district nine),” he said.
If granted funding, Hartley said a district drug court could be underway in early fall.
• The Senate unanimously voted to eliminate the daily $8.82 bed tax charge, according to a release from the senate.
The daily tax was imposed on licensed nursing homes, care facilities for the mentally retarded, and residential treatment centers, and was previously enacted to last until June 30, 2007, according to Senate Bill 88 (home of the bed the tax law).
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, and Sen. Harden, R-Clovis, said they were pleased with the bill’s passing.
• Harden said he heard Richardson’s presentation for a proposed spaceport — to commercialize space travel in the state.
“They’ve already sold early tickets to rich people … wealthy people are already booking flights,” Harden said.
Though Harden thinks commercial space travel would be a safe and profitable venture, he’s not signing up for the zero-gravity experience anytime soon.
“I would not book a ticket. I don’t like heights or flying (on commercial aircraft),” he said.
• Harden said he signed onto a bill Thursday that would make it mandatory for all convicted felons to submit to DNA testing.
“It’s a discussion of using DNA in addition to fingerprinting,” Harden said. “This is a really important piece of legislation, it’s pretty proactive.”
• Chandler will be meeting with Richardson this week in Santa Fe to discuss “the success of Meth Watch and of the meth ordinance.”
Clovis approved the methamphetamine ordinance in September restricting the sale and display of sinus and cold medication that could be used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Meth Watch is a volunteer program where stores are encouraged to alert law enforcement when a suspicious amount of ephedrine products are being purchased.