February 1, 2023

Bill to make obtaining orders of protection easier passes Senate committee

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill that will make orders of protection easier for survivors to obtain passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with no opposition.

SB 18, Rename Family Violence Act, cleared the committee on an 8-0 vote. It will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

SB 18, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, significantly rewrites the Family Violence Protection Act to improve victims’ ability to request an order of protection and to expand the list of reasons an order can be obtained. If the bill becomes law a survivor will be able to request an order for protection in the event of kidnapping, false imprisonment, interference with communication, threats to disclose immigration status, harm or threats to harm animals to intimidate, threaten or harass a person and unauthorized distribution of sensitive images.

Sedillo Lopez said the bill is the result of a Senate Memorial task force, created a couple of years ago. The task force reviewed the Family Violence Protection Act and updated it with this bill.

“It (the Family Violence Protection Act) had been amended piecemeal over the years. Judges were doing different things,” she said.

She said, in addition, the most current best practices were not being followed and a “mutual protection order,” written into the current law, does not exist.

The bill will also allow a child 13 years of age or older to request an order of protection from a co-parent, an adult whom the child has had a continuing relationship with or if stalking or sexual abuse has occurred.

The bill will also clarify the route to an order of protection, that a criminal filing is not necessary. The bill also requires a provision to make it easier for individuals who do not speak English to understand the process.

The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department led the task force, which included judicial representatives and law enforcement as well as advocacy groups to discuss the difficulties  individuals face in seeking orders of protection in New Mexico.

There were two amendments, one to add that the bill will go into effect on July 1, 2023 if enacted. The other amendment cleaned up some language.

State Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, asked if the court does not grant an order of protection, what happens next.

Sedillo Lopez said the individual can gather more evidence and request a second hearing.

“We want to make this more understandable to the individual. They do not allege enough in the initial filing. So many times, they go in and they don’t tell the whole story,” she said.

State Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said there are legal professionals in Lea County who “like the bill.”

Sedillo Lopez said the bill “provides a lot more clarification.”

“Most of the changes are consistent with how they [judges] were filling the gaps,” she said.