Working During the Legislative Session
Barbara Romo - District Attorney
As I write this, the 60-day legislative session has just begun.
For a District Attorney a legislative session involves several things. Of course during the session the various finance committees meet to determine what the budget will be for our office (indeed all state agencies) for the next fiscal year. In years past my district has been approved for a specific number of positions. However to date we have not received the funds to hire people to fill those positions. This year our budget request over and above our operating funds is focused on obtaining funds to fill our empty positions. Filling our empty positions will result in more manageable caseloads for our attorneys and support staff. Currently attorneys are carrying on average 245 cases. For a staff person with two attorneys their caseloads are double.
In her State of the State address Governor Lujan-Grisham spoke of her commitment to safety, reducing crime and the importance of law enforcement partnerships. She gave the example of recently graduating the largest class of cadets at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. She vowed that she would “fight tooth and nail to keep our communities safe” and to that end she is committing one hundred million dollars toward law enforcement recruitment and training with the end goal of making New Mexico the “safest state in the nation”. We support law enforcement because they are perhaps the most important partnerships we have as prosecutors of crime. They bring us the cases, and if they have done their work well, we can then prosecute the criminals. It’s important to recognize that it takes the work of both the District Attorneys AND Law Enforcement working in partnership to address the problem of crime and work toward making our communities safe. Part of my work and the work of my fellow District Attorneys during the legislature is to further on-going dialogue with our legislators to create awareness that increasing the budget for law enforcement is only one part of the equation. If we do not have the personnel and the dollars to support our staff, it won’t matter how many bad actors law enforcement gets off the street. My attorneys and staff work tirelessly. But they are human and can only do what is humanly possible. It is our job as prosecutors to see the perpetrators of crimes through the judicial system. The judges and juries decide the outcome. All these entities need an increase in financial support to make the state safer.
During the legislative session District Attorneys also track bills that are being considered which may change or somehow impact the work we do. For example some of the bills we are currently following and providing legal commentary on are HB87-264 Domestic Violence and Firearm Possession, HB104-264 No Statute of Limitations on 2nd Degree Murder and HB307-264 Criminal Sexual Contact with a Minor Penalty. A complete list of the bills we are tracking can be found HERE
For the last several years I have been working to secure an amendment to the Victims of Crime Act to include certain enumerated crimes against a peace officer. This amendment would give peace officers the same rights and benefits as all other victims of enumerated crimes. For example, the right to be heard in court and the right to confer with prosecutors regarding the status and disposition of a case and the right for reparations such as loss of wages and home health care. I’ve put this bill forward for several years. It hasn’t been placed on the schedule for a vote which means I begin again the following year. You can find a list of enumerated crimes at this LINK.
In 2015 Rio Rancho Police Officer Greg Benner was gunned down during a traffic stop. In 2016 I prosecuted Andrew Romero, the shooter, resulting in a guilty verdict and life imprisonment without parole. While working on that case, I made a vow to fight to give law enforcement officers assaulted and harmed in the line of duty the same rights as other victims of violent crimes.
From the time I first learned of Officer Benner’s Murder and over the course of the 14 months of preparation for the trial, I saw the devastating impact the murder of one of our sworn protectors has on the entire community. I find it unconscionable that the men and women who put their lives on the line every day for our community do not enjoy the same rights as other crime victims who suffer the same harm. It seems inconsistent with the Governor’s stated purpose of supporting law enforcement with additional resources to not afford the same rights to law enforcement as other victims of crime.