I spent my first few hours at the legislature on Tuesday as myself and numerous other Sheriff's from across the state traveled to the roundhouse to appear at committee hearings on bills which were of interest to Sheriffs. Some of these included the following.
A bill the New Mexico Sheriffs Affiliate of the New Mexico Association of Counties is supporting is one which would allow two term limited Sheriff's to run for three terms before becoming term limited. This is a compromise after years of unsuccessful attempts to remove term limits for Sheriff's. If you were not aware I am on the second and final term of office and will be removed as Sheriff by the state constitution. The term limits are in the State Constitution and if changes to it are passed in the legislature it will still have to go to a statewide vote as a constitutional amendment.
I don't have much hope in this passing but I believe it would be a good bill. I truly believe that the voters are the best term limit option and as New Mexico is only one of a handful of states that has term limits for Sheriff's it places us in a position of losing good people who have great experience. I can tell you from experience that the first four years go fast and it takes a good three years to get things going smoothly and any major projects which involve large amounts of funding can take most of your two terms to come to fruition. As a side note I would not benefit from this bill should it be passed by both the legislature and the voters. I also think its interesting that the legislature has passed term limit laws for all county elected officials and all state county officials with few exemptions. What are those exemptions? The District Attorney, Judges, and of course, State legislators.
Another slate of bills being watched closely by Sheriff's and counties are those that help counties whom are bearing the huge costs of keeping state prisoners in county jails, and bills that require the state to transport their own prisoners to courts and hearings. As it is now Sheriff's must send deputies to transport prisoners to court hearings and other legal proceedings. This pulls hundreds of deputies off the streets and sends them to transport prisoners which are completely the responsibility of the State. It is a huge cost and burden to local jurisdictions.
A very important set of bills which have little chance of passing in today's economic times is one which requires the state to set up psychiatric and mental health facilities and programs in the state. As we all remember from the recent cases of John Hyde and Cho Seung-Hui the Virginia Tech Killer. Both had brushes with the mental health systems in their states and both states failed them and their eventual solution was mass murder.
New Mexico needs to expand our mental health system and provide expanded in patient care. The waiting lists are too long and continued outpatient care is lacking in resources and funding. those in need of constant care and monitoring need a system that provides that care as well as funds the care. Many mentally ill individuals are unable to hold down jobs especially with out assistance and monitoring to ensure they are taking their medications. Going back to the Johnson administration we have cut and underfunded mental health facilities and programs. New Mexico needs to invest in these programs and begin to be proactive in preventing these kinds of deaths. It is unfortunate that those monies were not spent in the past years where the states coffers overflowed with oil and gas money.
As I was looking over the countless number of bills bieng presented one caught my eye if only for the sanctions bieng proposed. Our own Santa Fe Freshman Representative Brian Egolf intoduced a bill which will prevent wasteful government printing and mailing of annual reports, calendars, updates, etc. The bill states that there shall be no unsolicited mailing of bound materials in excess of five pages by any state agency, division, board, commission, etc. There is also a penalty for a violation of the law - any cabinet secretary or division director who violates the law will get a ten percent salary reduction.
WOW, imagine if we expanded that idea to all kinds of laws. If the Governor or legislator conducts a ethics violation maybe we can fine them ten percent of thier salaries or per diem. Maybe if a reporter or member of the media makes a mistake or misquotes an elected official they would pay ten percent of thier salaries fine to the state. The state could use this money to overcome the deficit. Ok, Ok, I jest but really is this a serious bill? I like Brian Egolf and his ideas to conserve our natural resources but I really think the way to go is to pass a bill requiring these reports and updates be placed on the internet. The money saved by doing this can be used to expand free wireless internet systems state wide. Or at least to increase funding to provide free computers and internet access in librarys and state buildings throughout the state. Then one day (when and if) we have the ability to watch the legislative session via the internet those who cannot afford high speed internet will have access to it.
This blog post is longer than most and I still have other bills that I am interested in but perhaps another post another day.