- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday vetoed restrictions on solitary confinement in jails and prisons for juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill. She also signed into law bills to increase access to high-speed internet and allow liquor sales when New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday.

Martinez, a Republican, said the solitary confinement bill passed by the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature could have endangered the lives of inmates and guards.

It would have banned pregnant women and juveniles from solitary confinement, and limited its use with inmates suffering from mental illness to episodes where they posed an imminent threat to others.

Martinez said the bill would have eliminated the flexibility corrections officers need to control potentially violent criminals or prevent them from harming other inmates. Prisoners under 18 convicted as adults, she said, could be at risk if their jailers cannot place them in housing separate from other inmates.

But Democrats including Antonio Maestas of Albuquerque warned that the veto would extend inhumane confinement practices and could lead to costly legal settlements for taxpayers.

A string of lawsuits alleging mistreatment of New Mexico jail inmates in recent years has cost five counties more than $20 million in legal settlements and jury awards.

Other civil rights cases pending in federal court have been filed on behalf by former inmates with mental illnesses who were housed for weeks or months in solitary confinement.

Steven Allen, public policy director for the ACLU of New Mexico, said the vetoed bill would have provided regular public disclosures about the use of solitary confinement.

“We know it’s being misused and overused,” he said. “We don’t have a clear sense of the whole picture.”

The second-term Republican governor also signed more than 65 bills - including legislation giving local government new authority over juvenile curfews and requiring student athletes to be advised about potential brain injuries.

New Mexico also became the first U.S. state to require all local and state law enforcement agencies to provide officers with drug-overdose antidote kits to curb deaths from opioid and heroin use. State lawmakers approved that legislation unanimously and Martinez, a former prosecutor, said in a signing ceremony that the move would prevent overdose deaths.

The governor endorsed legislation that reins in the storefront loan industry by effectively eliminating payday loans and capping interest rates at 175 percent.

Consumer advocates pushed unsuccessfully to cap interest rates at 36 percent, as a dozen of other states have. Industry lobbyists have voiced concerns about double-digit rates putting storefront lenders out of business.

Martinez has until noon Friday to act on more than 100 other bills including a $6.1 billion spending proposal and companion increases to taxes and fees that would raise $350 million to close a budget deficit and rebuild depleted state reserves.

On Thursday, the governor repeated vows to veto tax increases and call lawmakers back to the Capitol to renegotiate a budget package for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“It will be soon,” Martinez said of the special session. “I understand there’s got to be a budget.”

Martinez also vetoed a bill to require lobbyists to report expenses under $100 spent on lawmakers and other public officials.

And she rejected a bill to ensure local governments can automatically collect taxes on short term lodging rentals arranged through third-party websites and apps such as Airbnb. The bill would have removed any possible exemption on local taxes for online, short-term rentals.

Martinez said unconventional short-term rentals of rooms, cabins and houses can help New Mexico’s vital tourism sector.

Cities including Santa Fe have struck deals with Airbnb to collect lodging taxes. Many local governments rely on the tax revenue for tourism and marketing campaigns.

In other vetoes, the governor rejected as promised a statewide increase in the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.15 an hour. Martinez has said she would support a smaller increase than those proposed by the Legislature.

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