Wed. Jan 26th, 2022


Jan. 14—This is a serious question: Does neckwear cut off oxygen to the part of the brain that supplies common sense?

I ask because of state Rep. Joshua Hernandez, who has proposed what he considers conciliatory legislation for troubled times.

Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, filed a memorial to declare Feb. 4 as Bow Tie Day in his chamber.

“In celebration of bipartisanship, members of the House of Representatives are encouraged to wear the much-celebrated bow tie, which was introduced in the 17th century and has remained a staple of fashion since its inception,” his legislation intones.

Hernandez’s proposal, House Memorial 7, gushes over bow ties for another five paragraphs. Pity the idealistic state employee who was stuck drafting the measure.

Hernandez posed for his official government portrait in a star-spangled bow tie. The colors are red, white and blue. Even a time-wasting legislator wants to look patriotic.

New Mexico’s regular legislative session begins Tuesday. It’s a short one, lasting only 30 days. Legislators all claim the crunch limits how much they can achieve.

But in a state filled with poverty and crime, drug addicts and underachieving students, Hernandez found time for a memorial on bow ties.

Hernandez isn’t alone in tackling trivia or diverting the legislative staff with unimportant tasks. Many other legislators do it every year, leaving important work undone.

Memorials have no force of law, but legislators like them for various reasons.

Some use memorials to ingratiate themselves with voters. Hernandez has filed a second memorial on Rio Rancho Day. It’s mostly puffery, but the pronouncements will make the mayor and chamber of commerce happy.

Memorials also can be used to run out the clock if legislators don’t want to confront something important.

Dawdling and glad-handing are part of the reason the Legislature has left a giant gap in New Mexico’s criminal code.

The state has a six-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder. Members of the House of Representatives introduced bills in each of the last 11 years to eliminate the time limitation.

But the state Senate acted as though it never heard of DNA evidence and defrosting cold cases through dogged police work. Almost every bill to eliminate the time restriction for prosecuting second-degree murder sailed through the House but died in the Senate.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, sponsored most of the measures. He’s trying again this year with House Bill 25. The proposal would enable prosecutors to file a second-degree murder charge at any time.

The strange case of Ellen Snyder inspired the reform bills. She shot and killed her husband, Mike, in 2002 as they argued at their home in Albuquerque. Ellen Snyder fired eight bullets to kill a man disabled by multiple sclerosis.

Then she buried her husband’s body in the backyard. Her teenage son and unknowing heavy equipment operators dug what became a grave.

Acting on tips, police solved the case eight years later. The statutes of limitation for second-degree murder and manslaughter had lapsed.

Snyder was in trouble, but she had bargaining power. Second-degree murder might have been the correct charge, but it was outlawed in her circumstance.

The state could have tried Snyder for first-degree murder, a crime of premeditation for which there is no time limit to prosecute. The risk was prosecutors might not be able to prove that charge.

Snyder said she was a battered wife. She could raise domestic violence as a defense. The question of whether she planned to kill her husband or shot him during a fast-developing confrontation might divide a jury and set her free.

Deal-making became the state’s solution to the crime. Snyder pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after waiving the statute of limitations.

The state also convicted her of a firearms charge, tampering with evidence and tax fraud for claiming her husband was alive.

A judge sentenced her to the maximum allowable under the plea deal — 11 years in prison. Second-degree murder alone carries a 15-year sentence.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other politicians joined together Thursday to endorse an end to the time limit for prosecuting second-degree murder.

Like many House members, the governor also favors increasing the penalty for second-degree murder to 18 years.

Those proposals have been before the Legislature for more than a decade. They are as familiar to veteran lawmakers as the story of Ellen Snyder’s crime and punishment.

Freshmen lawmakers such as Hernandez have to study to catch up — provided they care about putting policy work ahead of politicking.

Being a legislator isn’t easy. Many develop hearing problems. Create enough memorials on bow ties and boosterism, and anyone can be tone-deaf.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-086-3080.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-086-3080.

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