Some three weeks after its introduction, a bill encompassing sweeping police reforms cleared its first committee hearing — but only after the sponsor made considerable changes.
Members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to move Senate Bill 227 to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Among other measures, the bill would restrict police officers’ use of physical force and require them to intercede and report when they witness excessive use of force by a colleague.
Law enforcement agencies also would have to submit a report to the state within 30 days of an incident and post the report on their website for public access. But after consulting with officials of the New Mexico branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, removed certain provisions — including prohibiting the use of tear gas, rubber bullets or dogs in certain instances.
Gone, too, is a provision requiring law enforcement officers to wait 45 seconds after knocking before entering a residence with a search warrant. But the use of chokeholds is still prohibited in the new substitute bill presented to committee members Wednesday.
When she first announced the legislation in early February, Lopez cited the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May, as an example of the tragic consequences of allowing police officers to cross the line. On Wednesday, she said that is an issue “not just across the nation, but here in New Mexico.” However, several people who voiced opposition to the bill during Wednesday’s hearing said it does not take into account what police officers go through when dealing with threatening or dangerous situations.
A Democratic state lawmaker introduced a bill Monday that calls for sweeping police reforms, in particular restricting officers’ use of physical force and requiring officers to intercede when they witness inappropriate use of force by a colleague. Senate Bill 227 came less than a day after a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man while responding to a fight near an Albuquerque elementary school. The case was still under investigation Monday evening.
Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, the sponsor of SB 227, said she knew nothing about the incident when she announced the new bill. “It just makes it much more important,” she said. Among other measures, SB 227 would prohibit law enforcement officers from using force unless they had first tried all possible deescalation efforts.
This year’s special session wrapped up on Monday and the state now has a balanced budget. But as with many special sessions, legislators were tasked with considering other law changes, including those aimed at holding law enforcement officers more accountable. Those bills included issues like mandatory body cameras for police officers, new processes for reporting police use of force and creating a civil rights commission. It was a mixed bag on what types of reform proposals passed and there were mixed feelings from civil rights advocates.
One of the bills that made it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk is SB 8, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. The bill would require all police in the state, regardless of jurisdiction, to wear body cameras.
This week’s special session will, as expected, include more than just budget matters, the governor’s office announced Wednesday. While the state must address plunging revenues, which would result in an unbalanced budget, something that is not allowed according to the state constitution, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also said that non-budget items would include police reform efforts, election changes and tax relief for small businesses. The special session, which will begin at noon on Thursday, is necessary because of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the disease. Only legislation that is put on the call can be passed during special sessions. Some legislators have said they should only address budget issues during the special session and that other issues can wait until the regular legislative session in January.