SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico could impose tougher penalties for violations of hunting and fishing laws under a proposal approved Monday by the Senate.
The measure, if enacted, will allow the state Game Commission to suspend or revoke someone’s hunting or fishing privileges for longer than three years, which is the current limit for violations.
Sen. George Munoz, a Gallup Democrat, said the proposal was directed at “thrill killers” who shoot big game such as trophy elk for the heads and antlers, leaving the meat to rot.
The legislation passed the Senate on a 28-10 vote. It goes to the House, where a separate measure is pending that will make the worst poaching violations a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
Under the Senate-passed bill, the commission must issue new rules outlining the possible penalties for sportsmen for violating hunting and fishing laws and regulations.
Supporters said harsher sanctions are warranted because trophy game animals are valuable natural resources. The right to hunt a bighorn sheep in New Mexico recently was auctioned for $180,000, according to Game and Fish Department officials.
Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, said poachers are “stealing from us” and it is “very valuable theft.”
But opponents said the proposed penalties go too far, particularly for New Mexicans who may shoot game out of season to feed their families.
The commission can administratively impose sanctions for game violations, including license suspensions and fines of up to $1,000. A court also can assess civil penalties ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 for convictions of certain game law crimes.
“Now they want to take away your privilege to hunt for the rest of your life. That’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Richard Martinez, an Espanola Democrat and retired magistrate judge.
He said a three-year license suspension is “extreme cruelty to some people up in northern New Mexico.”
“Their whole life is hunting and fishing,” said Martinez.