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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

ABQjournal: Higher Penalty for Supplying Alcohol to Minors Takes Effect

ABQjournal: Higher Penalty for Supplying Alcohol to Minors Takes Effect
June 30, 2004
Higher Penalty for Supplying Alcohol to Minors Takes Effect
By Mary Perea
The Associated Press
Teresa Holguin was disappointed and shocked when the man who supplied alcohol to her 14-year-old daughter was sentenced to 18 months probation.
"I expected him to do some time, at least," Holguin said Wednesday.
Holguin's daughter, Felisha, died of acute alcohol poisoning in February 2002 after drinking at a slumber party.
Holguin worked with Gov. Bill Richardson during the last legislative session to push for change in New Mexico's liquor laws.
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Wednesday that the governor is confident that these tougher penalties combined with stepped up enforcement will discourage adults from providing alcohol to minors.
"The ultimate goal is to protect our kids," he said. "We will no longer tolerate this type of alcohol abuse."
The law making it a felony to provide alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 is one of the laws that take effect in New Mexico on Thursday.
"I think people should be aware that if they buy alcohol for a minor, they need to pay the consequences," Holguin said.
She is grateful that the weeks she spent meeting with lawmakers and telling her daughter's story resulted in a harsher penalty.
"It's not like she didn't die for a purpose, and it makes her life worth something," Holguin said.
The new law applies to anyone who gives or sells alcohol to a minor.
The maximum penalty is 18 months in prison and fines of up to $5,000.
New Mexico Mothers Against Drunk Driving director Terry Huertaz said Holguin worked hard to promote a measure that could significantly impact underage drinking.
"We really believe this is going to make an impact for our state and those who provide alcohol for minors will now be held accountable for their crime," Huertaz said.
She praised the governor's office for drafting the legislation as part of its DWI package.
The measure replaces a law that currently punishes offenders with fines, community service and in some cases a mandatory two to five days in jail.
Holguin said it's now up to the judicial system.
"Now that it is in effect, the judges and the district attorney need to follow through with it," Holguin said, adding that she hoped the cases wouldn't be pleaded out for lesser penalties.
Law enforcement agencies around the state sent minors in to try to buy liquor at various establishments over the last week in an effort to promote the new law and remind those who sell liquor to minors that they too will face harsher punishment.
Another law that takes effect Thursday will restore anti-discrimination protections for tens of thousands of New Mexico workers.
Lawmakers in 2003 amended the state's Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and other areas based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But they made a mistake, inadvertently wiping out broad human rights protections for workers in small businesses.
Now, only businesses with fewer than four workers are exempt from complying with the Human Rights Act — except in the case of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees.
Other laws effective Thursday:
— Increase the tax on health insurance premiums by 1 percent, raising about $20 million a year to help pay for state budget increases, particularly Medicaid.
— Toughen laws against methamphetamine manufacturing and protect children from meth labs. One law gives the Board of Pharmacy authority to regulate over-the-counter drugs, such as those containing pseudoephedrine, and chemicals that are used to make meth. Another law allows people to be prosecuted for child abuse — a felony — if they knowingly allow children to be in buildings, motor vehicles or anywhere that there are drug-manufacturing chemicals or equipment.
— Require background checks for people applying for a commercial driver's license authorizing them to drive vehicles that transport hazardous materials.
— Allow parolees, except for certain sex offenders, to earn "good time" that could cut their parole period by as much as half.
— A tax break to consumers who buy fuel efficient gas-electric hybrid vehicles. A one-time exemption from the state's motor vehicle excise tax would be provided. The tax break will be available for vehicles purchased through June 30, 2009.

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