Mayor Richard J. Berry presented his priority legislation for the 2011 New Mexico Legislative Session to NM State Legislators who represent areas around the Rio Grande Central Corridor today. The following bills and initiatives are ones that Mayor Berry’s team will lobby, follow, and champion.
In 2003, the State of New Mexico repealed food and prescription sales taxes. At the time, municipalities and counties worried they would lose a substantial amount of revenue with this repeal because gross receipts taxes are a primary source of revenue to fund services such as fire fighters, police officers, libraries, and other vital services. As a condition of the repeal, the State of New Mexico made an agreement with municipalities and counties to hold them harmless and create a distribution for the loss of revenue. Since the repeal, each year the State has funded the City of Albuquerque and all other municipalities and counties in the amount that food and prescription taxes would have been. In 2009, the City of Albuquerque received $35.5 million, the City of Las Cruces received $7 million, and the City of Santa Fe received $10.2 million in Hold Harmless distributions. If the Hold Harmless distributions are ended, the City of Albuquerque and other municipalities may be forced to choose between significant tax increases, cuts to public safety including police and fire, or significant cuts to other public services. The City of Albuquerque encourages the NM State Legislature to keep the Hold Harmless distributions in place through 2011 and beyond.
Currently there are no legal standards in New Mexico for what municipal treasurers need to know or for how well they manage investments. This bill imposes a legal requirement for municipal treasurers to educate themselves and make informed decisions based on the best interest of the public. The bill establishes a legal framework in which their performance can be judged and held accountable. The bill is intended to protect taxpayers from the loss of public funds and under performance of investments. The legislation would apply only to municipalities with a population greater than 10,000 and members of the New Mexico Municipal League.
3. Third Party Review
In March 2010, Mayor Berry presented an aggressive economic development plan called thrive!ABQ. In the plan, the mayor listed ideas to cut red tape and break down barriers in City government. A primary component of his plan was legislation to allow a qualified third-party plan review. In essence, this legislation will allow builders, developers, homeowners, and others to engage the services of qualified third-party plan reviewers to ensure code compliance and building safety. Municipalities will still be allowed and encouraged to provide plan review services, however those who engage a third-party review could substantially shorten the time it takes to get their projects started and significantly reduce the burden on taxpayers for the plan review process. Currently, New Mexico law does not specifically allow for a third-party plan check while other states do. The City of Albuquerque encourages the NM State Legislature to pass this bill to allow for greater economic development across the state and to potentially ease the burden on taxpayers and businesses.
4. Crime Package
Many states in the Southwest states already have similar crime legislation that the City is proposing during the 2011 NM State Legislature. Criminals from out-of-state have told local police that they came to New Mexico because the laws were lax. If passed, the following four bills make New Mexico an unattractive destination for criminals.
a. Three strikes
This legislation will expand the list of violent crimes that qualify for a life sentence under the current three strikes law. As it is currently written, the law only covers the following offenses:
• Murder in the first or second degree
• Shooting at or from a motor vehicle causing great bodily harm
• Kidnapping resulting in great bodily harm inflicted upon the victim by his captor
• Criminal sexual penetration
• Robbery while armed with a deadly weapon causing great bodily harm
Proposed changes to the law would expand the list of crimes which would qualify for a life sentence to include the following:
• Shooting at or from a motor vehicle
• Criminal sexual penetration
• Aggravated assault
• Assault with intent to commit a violent felony
• Felony aggravated battery
• Felony aggravated battery against a household member
• Sexual exploitation of children
• Criminal sexual contact of a minor
• Aggravated burglary
• Aggravated assault upon a peace officer
b. Penalty Enhancements for Gang Affiliations
This legislation will enhance penalties for criminal activities carried out with relation to a person’s gang affiliation. The bill establishes penalties for participation in gangs as well as active recruitment of new members. The proposed changes would result in the following enhancements:
• Fourth degree felony – an additional 6-18 months
• Third degree felony – an additional 18-24 months
• Second degree felony – an additional 3-4 years
• First degree felony – an additional 6-8 years
c. Organized Retail Theft Act
This legislation will increase penalties for people who act in concert to illegally obtain merchandise from retail establishments for the purpose of reselling items. In order to be charged with felony theft in New Mexico, thieves must steal something worth more than $500. Knowing this, thieves are able to get around the law by stealing several items under $500 at different establishments. This means they can only be charged with misdemeanors. This law would consolidate all thefts committed within a 90 day period and allow prosecutors to charge to offenders with a felony. Charges that apply under this act include:
• Fraudulent use of a credit card
This law would make it illegal for a person to commit any of the qualifying offenses in three separate acts at retail establishments within a 90-day period. The degree of the charges would be based on the combined market value of the property taken:
• More than $500 and less than $2,500 = fourth degree felony.
• More than$2,500 and less than $20,000 = third degree felony
• $20,000 or more = second degree felony.
d. Elimination of Statute of Limitations for Murder and Rape
This legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations for violent felonies. Under New Mexico law there is no statute of limitations on first degree murder and violent first degree felonies, such as rape in which the victim has been seriously injured, or criminal sexual penetration of someone under 13 years old. But other crimes, such as second-degree murder, manslaughter and rape in which there was no serious bodily injury, prosecutors must file charges within five or six years, depending on the crime. This law would eliminate the statute of limitations for all degrees of murder, manslaughter and rape. Crimes that would no longer have a statute of limitations include:
• Second degree murder
• Rape without serious bodily injury