NM State House votes to expand Baby Brianna's Law

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - The New Mexico House of Representatives Monday approved House Bill 45, which would expand Baby Brianna's Law, by a vote of 55 to 8.

The bill would apply Baby Brianna's Law to all individuals convicted of intentional child abuse resulting in death, regardless of the age of their victims.

Under current law, if a person commits intentional child abuse resulting in death and that child is 11 years old or younger they are automatically sentenced to a life sentence which is 30 years, before they're eligible for parole. If the child is over the age 11, the maximum sentence is 18 years.

"What this bill would do is remove that distinction and send a message that every child's life regardless of their age is valued equally," Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes (R) of Bernallio County, who's sponsoring the bill, said.

This is the fourth time the bill has been voted on by the House. It was passed in 2015, passed in the 2016 session, and passed in 2016 special session.

"Unfortunately with each and every time it has passed in the House it has gone on to die in the Senate," Maestas Barnes said.

The current law is named after Brianna Lopez, an infant who was killed by members of her family in 2002. Brianna's mother was convicted and sentenced under an old law, and she was released last year after serving only 13 years for her role in Brianna's death.

The bill was initially tabled by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on a party-line vote, but in an unusual procedural move, it was scheduled for a second hearing. The committee then passed the bill on a 15 to 1 vote.

The House of Representatives considered similar legislation to expand Baby Brianna's Law during the last regular session. The bill passed the House by a vote of 63 to 0 but it died in the Senate Public Affairs Committee. Maestas Barnes co-sponsored identical legislation during the Special Session in September 2016. It passed the House by a vote of 66 to 1, but the Senate did not consider it.

House Bill 45 will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

In a statement sent to ABC-7, a spokesman for Governor Susana Martinez, Michael Lonergan said:

"Governor Martinez has fought for years to expand Baby Brianna's law, to ensure that if someone intentionally abuses a child and that child dies, they should NEVER get out of prison. The Governor is pleased to see the House act on this important legislation, and she hopes the Senate will finally act swiftly to protect New Mexico's kids."

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