A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense in civil rights cases advanced from the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. HB 4, known as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed without recommendation in a 5 to 3 vote along party lines. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, amended the bill to remove acequias, land grants and other small units of government from the definition of a public body, said Daniel Marzec, communications director for House Speaker Brian Egolf’s office. Egolf is a co-sponsor of the bill. The lead sponsor is Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 to support a revamped bill that would allow New Mexicans to sue government agencies they believe have violated their civil rights.
House Bill 4, creating a New Mexico Civil Rights Act, also would prohibit “qualified immunity” as a defense to legal claims filed against government agencies. Qualified immunity can shield law enforcement officers from being held personally liable for actions that are found to violate a person’s constitutional rights. The bill provides a three-year statute of limitations on such court actions and allows plaintiffs to ask for compensatory, but not punitive, damages. Based on the emotional testimony from some of the dozens of people who spoke in favor of or against the bill, the legislation is striking a personal chord.
Proponents say too many civil rights violations go unpunished in New Mexico, where residents can file such claims in federal court, but not in the state’s system. This bill would change that.
When the New Mexico Legislature passed the 1969 law on abortion, it was the least restrictive version of the state’s previous abortion laws, but one advocates say would be too restrictive if it goes back into effect. Since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, and President Trump’s nominee of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, there is a heightened concern that Roe v. Wade could be overturned in the immediate future. If that happens before the state’s 1969 abortion law is repealed, the state could turn back the clock to the 51-year-old law. An attempt to repeal the 1969 law failed in the state Senate in 2019. Related: Senate rejects repealing currently unenforceable anti-abortion law
If it were to become the state’s law, enforcement would be a matter for each individual district attorney’s office, said Matt Baca, chief counsel for the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday protecting LGBTQ from workplace discrimination “further enshrines” protections New Mexico already put in place, said Adrian N. Carver. Carver, executive director of the nonprofit Equality New Mexico, said the state passed laws in 2003 and 2019 that protects most workers who identify as LGBTQ from workplace discrimination. But, he said, that doesn’t always mean people are genuinely protected. “Legal equality is very different from lived equality,” Carver said. Susan Powers, a transgender woman living in Albuquerque, agreed and said she lost two jobs because she came out.
The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white. As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford University in the mid-1990s, Candice Jackson “gravitated” toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems, she wrote in a student publication. Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students. “I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”
Gov. Susana Martinez isn’t on board with accepting refugees fleeing the unrest in Syria at this time. A spokesman for the governor said, “The Governor strongly opposes the Obama Administration’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees until there is a very clear plan in place to properly vet and place the refugees, and the voices of governors and the public can be heard.” Lt. Gov. John Sanchez agreed on Facebook on Monday night. “I strongly oppose the President’s proposal to allow the unchecked flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” Sanchez wrote. “The potential security threat that this represents must be reconsidered in light of the need to keep U.S. citizens as safe as possible.”