[Editor’s Note: This is the second of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission’s work session on May 9, 2023 and regular meeting on May 11, 2023. This begins with a presentation by Sixth Judicial District Attorney Michael Renteria at the work session.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

With no public input at the Grant County Commission work session on May 9, 2023, District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce introduced Sixth Judicial District Attorney Michael Renteria.

Renteria said he wanted to give an update on crime bills at the recent legislative session. “I feel it is important to share this information as the district attorney for Grant, Luna and Hidalgo counties. I felt it was important to be at the session as much as possible. I was there for 38 days of the 60-day session. Two other DAs from Farmington and Taos were also there close to two-thirds of the session. I worked with our senators, Siah Correa Hemphill and Crystal Diamond, and our representatives, Luis Terrazas and Jennifer Jones, and I attended close to 60 hearings. A total of 1,084 bills were introduced, with 247 being passed, and 211 signed by the governor. We are a group of 14 DAs as an association. Four of five of the bills were significant.”

He talked about them. The first was Senate Bill 43, which was passed stating that the Department of Motor Vehicles can no longer suspend a license for someone for not appearing in court. “We thought the original version of the law was a bit heavy-handed, so we supported this change.”

House Bill 9 affected “my office directly. It made it a misdemeanor for a juvenile accessing a firearm. The charge can be changed as a felony in the future for major crimes, such a murder or bodily harm. We wanted to make sure firearms are responsibly stored. The bill passed and was signed.”

Senate Bill 215 addressed sexual abuse of an animal. “Louisiana and New Mexico were the only states without such a law.  It was approved. I thought it was already on the books, but it wasn’t. It’s now a fourth-degree felony.”

Senate Bill 64 addressed the issue of a juvenile who commits murder never having a chance at parole. “I can tell you we went back and forth on this as an association. This bill guarantees the inmate a parole hearing after 15 years for a felony murder; for a deliberate and willful murder, a parole hearing is guaranteed after 20 years; and for multiple murders a parole hearing after 25 years. There is no guarantee that the individual will be released, but they do have an option now and have to earn parole. We didn’t like the one introduced last year, because it was a little too light. We came together and opposed it last year and it did not pass. This one we supported. It was approved.”

The Child Welfare Protection Act, “we were convinced that it would pass. The intent was not to re-victimize children who are victims. It is hard for a child to remember and repeat the same thing over and over. We thought it was going to pass, but it didn’t. We think it is the right thing to do for children.”

“We also supported a bill to do blood tests for DWIs, which did not pass,” Renteria said. “With cannabis now legal, it is hard to prove impairment without a blood test. In Colorado, they have such a test and .5 nanograms of cannabis in the system is considered to be impairment. We think revenue generating took precedence over public safety. As your district attorney, I will always be concerned about public safety. We will keep fighting.”

The last bill he discussed was a Senate Bill sponsored by Sen. Hemphill. It addressed CYFD (Children, Youth and Families Department), and a proposal in the bill would remove the authority for law enforcement to take children into temporary custody and pass it to CYFD workers to do that. “I tried to talk to Sen. Hemphill that we did not support the proposal and that it would be detrimental to children in rural areas. It may work in cities, but it would be dangerous to rural children. At the last minute that bill got rolled, but I suspect it will come up in a different form next session. I hope our senator will be receptive to input from me sharing some of the experiences we have gone through.”

“All our representatives were receptive to my comments, and I was honored to be there to give feedback,” Renteria said. “For the last thing, I have concerns about motor vehicle incidents in Luna County. Lately, we have had a lot of hit-and-runs. One was a DWI, and the driver ran over a pedestrian. He stayed at the scene and worked with law enforcement, but he was convicted. Three others didn’t stay after the incidents. The one who stayed was sentenced to 18 years, with nine suspended. He was a ‘Good Samaritan’ and tried to render aid, but he was sentenced. Another driver who didn’t stay was ultimately caught because of witnesses. And a death occurred because the driver did not stop. It was possible the person could have survived had aid been rendered.  But he took off. I would much rather that the driver stay and take responsibility for the wrong-doing, because in this case, it could have saved a life.”

He said next year he will work with the representatives and senators to change the law for hit-and-runs. “It is a felony, but I think the sentences are too low. It is a fourth-degree felony, or possibly a third-degree, but it doesn’t go any higher. Whereas a vehicular homicide by DWI can go as high as a second degree or higher. I just think that the law has to be tweaked to at least a second-degree. I just want you to know that I am championing what helps the safety of the community. I know we have to keep addressing mental health and substance abuse. I’m working with the representatives and senators on these issues, but also on the funding side of these issues.”

Ponce asked about the SB 64 on juveniles. “I would see people could be either for or against this. The only problem is do we have the resources to provide kids with mental health counseling. We come up with laws, but we don’t provide the resources.”

Renteria replied: “We have resources, but not enough. It is hard to find places to put these kids. We are very limited to where we can take kids. There are only four facilities in the state just to detain them. It is no different with the treatment facilities. They need more funding. There has to be accountability, but also we need to treat them. We have to get funding and support on where to place them.”

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked: “What can we do to support your efforts?”

Renteria asked the commissioners to talk to the representatives and senators. “In Lordsburg, we have turned an old restaurant into a home where we can send someone for care. I’m not sure whether Grant County can put funding toward something similar. Grant County and Hidalgo County have more resources than Lordsburg, just not enough. Talk to all the representatives and senators, not just ours. We need a mental health court so as not to put them through the big courts.”

The next article will begin with the final two Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustee applicants. 

For the first article, visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/78186-grant-county-commissioners-choose-new-grmc-board-of-trustees-members-051123.

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