Bill on civil rights lawsuits passed by New Mexico House

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Legislators in the New Mexico House of Representatives endorsed reforms to rein in police immunity from prosecution, voting 39-29 on Tuesday in favor of a bill that allows civil rights lawsuits in state court against a variety of local government agencies.

The bill from Democrats including state House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe and Rep. Georgene Louis, a tribal member of Acoma Pueblo, now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The bill, titled the “New Mexico Civil Rights Act,” builds on recommendations from a commission chartered last year by the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham amid nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice.

In response to financial concerns voiced by local governments, sponsors amended the original bill to cap liability for damages at $2 million. Liability would apply only to agencies and not individual public employees.

The bill raises the stakes on legal claims that are currently capped at about $1 million under state tort law.

“This bill to me goes to the heart of restoring trust,” said state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque. “This isn’t an anti-police bill.”

The House vote fell along largely partisan lines with Republicans voting in opposition, joined by a handful of Democrats, including Reps. Derrick Lente of Albuquerque, Ambrose Castellano of Serrafina and Susan Herrera of Embudo.

Prospects for approval in the state Senate are uncertain amid opposition by local governments, school boards and police associations.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces is a co-sponsor. Last year he successfully ushered through the Legislature a red-flag gun law that can be used to remove firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

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