From the Roundhouse: Reaction or Overreaction?

February 19th, 2014 at 12:49 am by under Latest Posts, Politics

Tuesday night HB 333, nicknamed “Omaree’s Law” completed its rapid move through the House with a 52-11 vote.

Sponsored by Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, it’s made its late run due to the outcry over the case of Omaree Varela, allegedly kicked to death by his mother. Potential abuse claims were investigated by APD and CYFD, but Omaree was still left in a dangerous situation.

HB 333 requires CYFD to temporarily take custody of children who show certain abuse injuries when CYFD receives claims of abuse. The bill requires a hearing within 48 hours to determine whether those abuse claims can be substantiated.

HB 333 cleared House Judiciary on a lopsided 13-4 vote. As you can imagine, it’s a tough bill for anyone to vote against in an election year. Just think of the campaign ads (“Rep. ______ voted against protecting our kids, putting them in danger. Is this really who we want representing us in Santa Fe? Vote for —insert opponent here— in November)

But the fiscal impact report uncovers some serious concerns. Here’s a quote:

In FY13, CYFD had more than 21,000 reports alleging physical abuse by a parent, guardian, or custodian. If only half of these allegations included the type of injuries noted in the bill, there would be more than 10,000 children in CYFD custody, which the agency reports would be five-fold increase in the number of children in custody at any given time… …According to the preliminary analysis referenced above, CYFD Protective Services will need five times the resources currently available which would include an additional $609 thousand and an estimated 4,000 additional FTE. The agency believes the actual recurring cost could be much greater…

Overblown or not, there are also concerns spelled out that this could be unconstitutional.

Still, a vast majority of representatives supported it, saying it’s necessary protection for kids. Opponents have said it’s a knee-jerk reaction.

It’s not the first time Speaker Martinez has been accused of proposing politically popular legislation that overreacted to a high-profile problem.

Ten years ago at a 2004 session where Governor Richardson wanted major DWI reform on his desk, then-Rep. Martinez introduced HB 126, a bill aimed at curbing DWI with a pretty severe measure.

HB 126 would’ve required every car sold in New Mexico, used or new, to be equipped with an ignition interlock.

A fiscal study of the bill  concluded it would raise car prices. Albuquerque Journal editorials at the time claimed the total cost of installing interlocks on every car in the state would be north of $1 billion. The headline on one of those editorials read “Legislator Blows It With Interlock Bill”.

“Citizens of the state of New Mexico, you’re going to pay a little more, but you are going to be part of the solution,” Martinez said according to another Albuquerque Journal article.

The bill cleared the House easily 45-22 and was tricky to oppose politically.

As you may know from looking at your own car here in 2014, it didn’t make it out of the Senate.

“Omaree’s Law” and the interlock bill may ultimately share a grave in the same committee.

That interlock bill fell short in Senate Judiciary, chaired at the time by current Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen who said there wasn’t enough time left to hear the bill. “Omaree’s Law” could suffer the similar fate less than 36 hours from now when the clock runs out on the 2014 session.

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