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SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez used her first work day to reverse a decision by her Democratic predecessor and to propose expanding state law to require DNA samples from those arrested for any felony.
The Republican governor, who took office after taking the oath of office on the Plaza in Santa Fe on Saturday, followed through on a promise to stop a plan by former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration to move a state DNA center to Santa Fe from Albuquerque.
Some computer equipment was moved last week, but Martinez on Monday directed that be returned.
She described the move as “politics at its worst” and said “it doesn’t make sense from a public safety standpoint.”
The Richardson administration contended that it could save money having DNA samples processed by the state’s crime lab in Santa Fe.
But that was disputed by Albuquerque Public Safety Director Darren White, who joined Martinez at the news conference at the city’s police crime lab.
New Mexico has been paying the Albuquerque Police Department about $400,000 a year to process offenders’ DNA samples and upload the information to a national database. However, the samples are sent to an independent lab for testing.
Martinez and White oppose doing the DNA testing in the state’s Santa Fe lab, which also processes other crime scene evidence, because they said it increases the risk of cross-contamination of evidence.
“It could compromise the integrity of the DNA sampling and make it more difficult to seek justice for the victims and to prosecute criminals,” said Martinez, a former district attorney in Las Cruces.
The governor said she will ask the Legislature to broaden a DNA sampling requirement enacted in 2006.
It’s called “Katie’s Law” in memory of Kathryn “Katie” Sepich, a New Mexico State University student who was raped and murdered in 2003. Her killer was identified 3½ years later with DNA evidence after being convicted of another crime.
Currently, DNA samples are required for those arrested of some felonies, such as murder, kidnapping, burglary and sex offenses.
Sepich’s mother, Jayann, said New Mexico doesn’t require DNA tests in felony drug cases but other states have that requirement and it’s helped in solving rapes and murders.
“We need to save lives. We need to prevent crimes and we can do that in New Mexico,” Sepich said.
Martinez said she hoped to finish appointing her top agency administrators this week. She’s announced the nominees for 13 of 23 cabinet-level departments.
Among those pending are the Environment, Health and Transportation departments.
The governor said some Richardson appointees have been asked to temporarily remain in their jobs to ensure the smooth operation of agencies during the start of her administration.
Among those is Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia. Deputy Health Secretary Jessica Sutin, who once served as Richardson’s health adviser before shifting to the Health Department, is in charge of the agency. State Personnel Director Sandra Perez is another Richardson holdover.
The governor’s office said the Environment, Transportation and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources departments will be run temporarily by classified employees from the agencies.
A classified job is covered by civil service protections.
Appointees, or so-called exempt employees, serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Before taking office, Martinez had asked all Richardson political appointees — about 300 in executive branch departments, boards and commissions — to submit letters of resignation effective Dec. 31, the last day of Richardson’s term.