Civil Rights Act On Senate Flooring

Last week, the Civil Rights Act or Senate Draft 4 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a Do-Pass recommendation. While this awaits a final vote while it reaches the Senate, House Bill 220 on new body camera protocols for law enforcement has been debated in the House’s Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. To get a glimpse of the future of these bills and only have a few days left in the meeting, KUNM’s Khalil Ekulona spoke to Jeff Proctor of the Santa Fe Reporter for an update.

JEFF PROCTOR: This bill would allow New Mexicans who have been deprived of their civil rights due to the state constitution, whether it is freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from illegal search and seizure by the government, equal protections under the law, the same things you see in the Bill of Rights at the federal level, although here in our state some of these protections are a bit more extensive. In any event, if you believe your civil rights have been violated by the government, you can now take that lawsuit to a state court and make that claim. The other big thing under this law was that the government cannot claim qualified immunity. The easiest way to understand it, it is actually not a defense that the government is bringing, it is something that will stop the case before it is ever brought to justice. And it is essentially the government adage: We are entitled to immunity from these claims because there is no such previous case that exactly coincides with this one.

KUNM: Okay, we keep hearing how progressive this legislature is, more left than in the past. Does that apply when the legislature weighs this civil rights law?

PROCTOR: Yes and no. I would say, and what’s interesting about it, Khalil, is that I don’t think that this is really a left-to-right issue in relation to the legislature itself. I will say that for the most part I was not surprised at where the opposition to this legislation came from. There were some surprises. The last major vote on it took place in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was carried out in a very confined space. It was a five to four vote with all three Republicans on that committee voting against the legislation, no surprise. And then Daniel Ivey Soto, a lawyer in Albuquerque, and a Democrat against the law also voted, which made that vote so tight. Has the ongoing turnaround in the legislature affected this bill in one way or another? I think we’ll find out when it gets to the Senate.

KUNM: Are there serious obstacles to passage?

PROCTOR: There have been many serious obstacles, there have been many changes to this bill from its original form. For example, when it was first introduced, there was no limit to the damage plaintiffs could bring in civil rights lawsuits. There is now a cap of $ 2 million. And that’s in response to city and county governments and attorneys who represent school districts, for example, and they say, hey, if we do that you run the risk of bankrupting some of the smaller communities.

KUNM: We have Senate draft 220, which is also evolving. This would require body cameras that sometimes turn on automatically. When would they tune in?

PROCTOR: What that bill would do, number one, would require this new generation of police cameras so that when something like an escalated pursuit begins, the officer flips his cherry tops and pounds the accelerator that would step on the camera. Or if the camera system detects the sound of a shot, it kicks the camera. Or when the officer pulls his service weapon out of the holster, she kicks the camera. It would also clear some of the things and the law that were passed last year that require the use of body cameras. It would give officers some exceptions when they don’t have to turn on the cameras. It would be like they are in the middle of some kind of undercover operation. Right now all encounters with citizens must be recorded. This bill has had opposition and I think it will continue to have opposition.


Your New Mexico government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Our coverage is funded by the New Mexico Local News Fund, the Kellogg Foundation, and KUNM listeners like you with public media support provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

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