February 12, 2023

Bill to expand LGBTQ protections clears first committee

A bill to expand the New Mexico Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ individuals passed its first committee hearing by a party line vote of 5-3.

HB 207, the Expand the Human Rights Act Scope, would, if enacted, update some of the language in the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and it will close a loophole in the current law so public entities, such as public schools, cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. State Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, is the primary sponsor and presented the bill to the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Saturday.

If enacted, the bill will replace the word “handicap” with “disability,” update the language in the bill to include the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It will also include definitions for the words “sex” and “gender,” Ortez told the committee during the hearing.

The three Republicans on the committee spoke during the question period on the bill. State Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he couldn’t support it because “other people have other beliefs and they have religious beliefs.”

“I support what you’re trying to do but I don’t support putting it in stone, is the way I see it,” he said.

State Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Santa Rosa, said he was concerned about potential “backlash.”

“I do my job and I take responsibility, I probably won’t get fired. But if I don’t do my job and I get fired and I say they fired me because I was a Mexican. See, when we do things like this, we give somebody a way to backlash at these employers. I understand what you’re trying to get at. But I also see the problem on the other side of it,” he said.

State Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, questioned the definitions of some words within the bill.

“We’re basing our gender definitions on the World Health Organization, dictionaries and community,” Ortez said.

State Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, said that as a trial attorney, she has litigated “quite a few of these cases.”

“The difference between the federal protections and what happens in New Mexico are very stark….I think it is absolutely imperative we pass this law. We have an entire population of folks who need protection,” she said.

The bill will head to the House Judiciary Committee next.