- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - After hugging family members of victims killed in drunken driving-related accidents, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill Tuesday aimed at toughening penalties for drunken driving offenses.

Martinez signed the measure during a ceremony at New Mexico State Police headquarters in Albuquerque and vowed to continue to press for even harsher laws despite Democratic opposition.

The bill makes it a second-degree felony to be convicted of eight or more DWIs, meaning tougher sentencing guidelines would be imposed. The measure also substantially increases penalties for convicted drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes.

“Despite what some politicians have told you, drunken driving is a big problem in New Mexico,” Martinez said. “This is the step in the right direction. But it’s still not enough.”

The proposal was part of the Republican governor’s overall public safety agenda this past legislative session, though Martinez also wanted harsher laws penalizing those who knowingly give the keys to would-be intoxicated drivers. She also sought to expand the state’s habitual offender laws to include felon DWIs.

Those measures passed the GOP-led House, but they died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Some Democrats had questioned why New Mexico needed tougher sentencing guidelines and said state officials should be turning their attention to rehabilitation

Still, Martinez called on victims to put pressure Democratic senators in the future so those proposals could pass.

The bill-signing ceremony comes days after a Santa Fe man who was acquitted in 2011 of vehicular homicide in a crash that killed four teenagers was arrested again for drunken driving. Scott Owens was booked Friday on multiple charges including DWI, stalking and marijuana possession.

A jury found Owens not guilty of causing a fatal 2009 crash though he had admitted to drinking before the incident. He pleaded guilty to aggravated DWI in 2012.

It was not known if he had an attorney in his latest case.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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