Sunday, June 27, 2004

Carlsbad Current-Argus Laws target drug and alcohol abuse

Carlsbad Current-Argus Laws target drug and alcohol abuse
Laws target drug and alcohol abuse
By Walter Rubel/Current-Argus Santa Fe Bureau
Jun 26, 2004, 06:27 pm
SANTA FE — New laws cracking down on drug and alcohol abuse that take effect July 1 are focused on protecting new Mexico’s children.

Beginning Thursday, it will be a fourth-degree felony to supply alcohol to a minor. In the past, the violation had been a misdemeanor that often resulted in no more than a slap on the wrist for those convicted, said Ray Cisneros, director of the special investigations division for the state police.

“That was a major contributor to underage drinking,” Cisneros said. “Now if we catch them, that person is arrested on a fourth-degree felony and they cannot post bail without an arraignment before a judge. That usually means at least a night in jail, and if it’s on a weekend, it will be until Monday.”

Cisneros said underage drinking has been a long-standing problem in New Mexico, and the new law could provide a serious deterrent.

“We’re hoping that this new law will really make people think before obtaining alcohol for a juvenile,” he said. “We won’t know what impact it’s had for a couple of years. We’ll see if the judges and the district attorneys prosecute it.”

While the law has exceptions for spouses, parents and for certain religious ceremonies, Senate Judicial Committee Chairman Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said it’s time change the perception that underage drinking is acceptable on special occasions.

“That’s going to send a message to a lot of people in New Mexico who, for years, have had alcohol at every single function that you can think of, from birthdays to first holy communions to even weddings,” Sanchez said. “And the message to those people is that it’s time that we stop.”

Another law that takes effect July 1 will add child abuse penalties to those who allow children to be present in the same building where methamphetamine is being manufactured.
Along with the drug penalties, those arrested will now face a felony child abuse charge.

Rep. Rory Ogle, R-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he had to turn in his own son because of fears of the damage that could be done to his grandchildren.

“He’s a cooker,” Ogle said. “I’m not sure when my son got involved in this, and I can’t fathom what my two grandchildren have been exposed to. It got to the point where, as a parent, I had no other choice but to call the police and try to get them arrested.”

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, chairman of the state’s Children’s Cabinet, said it is not uncommon for children to be present when methamphetamine is being manufactured — exposing them to potentially hazardous chemicals.

“The saddest trend in the growth of the meth lab problem is the children who are often exposed to the horrors of these labs,” Denish said at the time she signed the
legislation. “State police tell us they find children present in 30 to 35 percent of all meth lab investigations.
This is not acceptable.”

The state will also begin clamping down on the materials used to make methamphetamine. A new law will give the New Mexico Pharmacy Board authority to regulate the chemicals that are used to manufacture the drug.

Many of those substances are common — over-the-counter cold and asthma medications — leading to fears by the state public defenders office that “a grandmother could be subjected to charges and conviction under the amended section for driving her grandchildren to school while she has a bottle of Sudafed in the glove box or in a Wal-Mart bag in her trunk.”

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Thomas Swisstack, R-Rio Rancho, said the law gives the Pharmacy Board discretion to decide what reasonable restrictions should be placed on those chemicals. He said the board could also require that they only be purchased in face-to-face sales, as is now done with cigarettes.

A third new law aimed at protecting children will toughen penalties for parents whose children don’t attend school.

The law requires school districts to closely track attendance records, and classifies any student who has 10 or more unexcused absences in any school year as a “habitual truant.” Parents of those students will be subject to a $100 fine and 90-day jail term for the first offense, and up to a $500 fine and six-month jail term for subsequent offenses.

Students are also held responsible, if a children’s court judge rules that the truancy is their fault. The law will allow for the student’s driver’s license to be revoked for 90 days for the first offense and up to one year for subsequent offenses.

Also taking effect July 1 will be a new law sponsored by Sen. Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, that will increase the fees paid by those on parole.

The minimum monthly fee would increase from $15 to $25 and the maximum fee would jump from $85 to $150. It also requires those in a community corrections program who receive program services to make a co-payment to offset the cost of those services.

The Parole Board has the authority to waive the fees. Rawson said he thought those convicted of crimes who have the ability to pay should be required to do so.

Crime laws that take effect July 1

HB106 toughens truancy penalties up to six months in jail for the parents and the loss of a driver’s license for the student.

HB111 gives the New Mexico Pharmacy Board authority to regulate substances used in the manufacture of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.

HB112 Makes it illegal to allow a child to be present in a home or vehicle where drugs are being manufactured.

HB487 Makes it a fourth-degree felony to sell or supply alcohol to a minor, with penalties increasing for subsequent violations.

SB563 Increases monthly fee paid by parolees.


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