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Crank it up!

Less money, mo’ problems: welcome to the 2009 legislature.

January 14, 2009, 12:00 am

The issues: In December 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sixty years later, the concept has grown to include issues such as capital punishment and gay rights, which are covered only implicitly—that is, by interpretation—in the official document.

This session, both a repeal of the death penalty and implementation of domestic-partnership legislation are expected to have strong showings because of the Legislature’s progressive tilt. The bills have had similar journeys, introduced year after year, only to die in the Senate. This time they will run concurrently, moving through both the Senate and House’s Public Affairs and Judiciary committees.

The capital-punishment abolition bill would replace the death sentence with life without possibility of parole.

Domestic-partnership advocates are highlighting the elements in the bill that transcend sexual orientation: Heterosexual individuals who don’t want to get married but want to share benefits, inheritance rights and next-of-kin hospital visitation would also have domestic-partnership options.

The politics: This time, the death-penalty repeal’s sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, says she has the votes in the Senate. The question is whether Richardson will block it.

“Our problem in the past getting it to the Senate floor has really been that the governor preferred not to have to deal with this issue…I think his political concerns were paramount,” Chasey says. The New Mexico District Attorney’s Association plans to oppose the measure, but Chasey and the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty say they may have worn Richardson down. Plus, there’s a budget angle: Death penalty cases cost prosecutors and public defenders millions to take to trial each year.

“Obviously, [Richardson’s return] changes our strategy a little bit, but not as much as people might think,” Coalition Coordinator Viki Elkey says. “We still think there’s a chance that Richardson could support this issue. We’ve got more votes in the House and Senate than we’ve ever had. We really feel like 2009 is the year.”

Rep. Mimi Stewart is sponsoring HB 21, a domestic-partnership bill.Equality New Mexico lobbyist Linda Siegle also is counting on more votes in favor of domestic partnerships than in years past. Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, is sponsoring HB 21 in the House, and Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, is sponsoring SB 12 in the Senate.

“The public is not ready for same-sex marriage and we think it’s very important to get benefits for people right now,” Siegle says. “We can probably pass a domestic-partner bill this session. We have absolutely no chance of passing a same-sex marriage bill.”

Both Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish have been strong advocates of the measure, so the immediate roadblock could be the current Senate.

“I’m optimistic, but I wouldn’t say confident,” Siegle says. “There are many factors that could waylay this, including who the Senate leadership is.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Jennings, D-Chavez, is against domestic partnerships. But the conservative Democrat, who took fire for recording robocalls for a Roswell Republican, is being challenged by the Democratic caucus’ nominee, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Los Alamos, who supports it.

“You never know until the vote actually happens, but it looks like we probably have the votes in the Senate,” Siegle says.

The opportunities: Mark your calendar.
Feb. 9: Anti-death penalty activists, speakers and performers will rally from 12-4 pm in the Capitol Rotunda. Sign up in advance at for a free T-shirt.
Feb. 16: Equality New Mexico hosts its lobby day at the Capitol. The organization also encourages citizens to share their stories, sign up to volunteer or donate at its Web site.

Related Features:
Politics Online—Keep up with the Legislature, virtually
What it’s Wirth—Santa Fe’s freshman senator talks transition

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