October 6, 2011

NM works to toughen sex offender laws

10-6-2011 New Mexico:

Sex offender laws not tough enough

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - New Mexico’s sex offender registration laws are tough but according to the federal government they are not tough enough. Because of this, New Mexico stands to lose lots of money.

New Mexico is currently about 85 percent compliant with the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law passed in 2006 that strengthened sex offender registration laws nationwide.

The July deadline to show further compliance passed and now the state is not meeting the mark.

“We have complied with everything that we can do administratively,” said Regina Chacon, records bureau chief for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. “New Mexico needs to add new crimes to the sex offender registration and notification act.”

A series of bills presented to state lawmakers over the last five years, would each have made changes to state law to satisfy federal requirements, but none of the bills made it into law.

New Mexico could lose around $270,000 in federal funding if the state fails to meet federal standards. And those funds could help law enforcement agencies statewide for things like DWI and narcotics operations, and for life-saving equipment like bullet-proof vests.

News 13 has learned the issue is lost in the world of state politics.

“The people outside of this capitol, our residents in this state, they’re the losers in this,” said State Representative Yvette Herrell.

Herrell was one of the last legislators who sponsored the legislation that eventually failed. Her bill never made it out of committee.

“It would have brought us into compliance 100 percent with the Adam Walsh Act,” Herrell said.

Herrell’s bill would have required New Mexico residents who committed sex crimes outside of the United States to register in the state.

It would also expand the number of crimes defined as sex offenses and it would increase the amount of information sex offenders have to provide to their counties.

“It doesn’t make sense that a bill that is basically non-partisan and would be a good bill for our public would not pass through this chamber and the other chamber and not go all the way through,” Herrell said.

Herrell’s bill was not the only bill to fail recently. Representative Antonio Maestas also sponsored legislation during the last regular session.
His bill passed both chambers of the legislature, but Governor Susana Martinez vetoed the bill because she felt it did not do enough to comply with the Adam Walsh Act.

In fact, a governor’s office spokesperson told News 13 in some ways the Maestas bill would have weakened the state’s sex offender registration laws.

Maestas insists his bill would have moved the state closer to compliance.

“There’s so much complexity and so many interest groups involved that it’s very difficult to get these bills passed,” Maestas said. “I believe it was vetoed for political reasons.”

According to Chacon, the Department of public safety will try once again to get the laws changed during the next legislative session in January.

The governor’s office is working with the state attorney general’s office on a bill, too.

“Lawmakers are aware that we will lose federal grant money,” Chacon said.

New Mexico is not the only state facing the loss of federal dollars. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 14 states are currently meeting federal requirements. ..Source.. by Tim Maestas

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