San Juan County Commission unanimously approves resolution opposing NM Civil Rights Act
AZTEC — San Juan County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the New Mexico Civil Rights Act — a bill presently before the state Legislature — due to concerns that provisions in it could lead to higher county government insurance rates.
The bill's goal is to increase police accountability and make it easier for people to sue law enforcement officers if their civil rights are violated. One way it seeks to do that is by ending the qualified immunity defense in New Mexico.
Qualified immunity provides protection for law enforcement officers and public officials from civil rights actions if that person can demonstrate their actions did not violate a clearly-established right.
San Juan County Attorney Doug Echols said that the county would have to pay significantly more in insurance if the bill becomes law.
Echols said the group New Mexico Counties sent out draft resolutions last week for the members to consider, part of the group's statewide strategy to kill or significantly the bill. Also known as the association of counties, New Mexico Counties has asked its 33 members to pass resolutions opposing the bill.
New Mexico Counties hopes that resolutions from the individual counties will lead to amendments to the bill to prevent large impacts to county coffers or that the resolutions could even lead to the bill dying.
House Bill 4 is sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, as well as House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee after receiving a do pass from the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 5-3 vote.
The San Juan County Commission unanimously passed the resolution on Feb. 2 opposing the bill, also known as House Bill 4. A recording of the County Commission meeting can be viewed on YouTube.
While the motion was initially made by Commissioner Terri Fortner, she withdrew it to allow Commissioner GloJean Todacheene to make the motion to adopt the resolution upon Todacheene's request. Todacheene is the sole Democratic Party member on the County Commission.
“There's a lot of Democrats who are pushing this, but I, as a Democrat, oppose this,” she said.
Following the vote, County Manager Mike Stark said House Bill 4 is one of 93 bills that have been introduced that the county is currently tracking. Some of these bills could benefit the county while others, he said, would be detrimental.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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