On Tuesday, the New Mexico Senate passed H.B. 4, dubbed the “Civil Rights Act,” sponsored by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, Rep. Georgene Louis (D-Bernalillo), and Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana), all attorneys practicing civil litigation.
The bill has the ability to bankrupt local communities with slews of frivolous civil rights lawsuits, end qualified immunity and put a target on law enforcers’ backs. Local governments from all across the state are vehemently opposed to the measure, as well as many local law enforcement officials from all over New Mexico.
During the Senate debate of the bill, Sen. Bill Sharer (R-San Juan) said, “We don’t want to deprive somebody of their civil rights, but we also don’t want to make the taxpayers of whatever jurisdiction just pour money into this endless pit of lawsuits.”
Sen. Stewart Ingle (R-Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea, and Roosevelt) said, “We have the most liberal liability laws of any place except Washington, D.C., and the stuff we didn’t have has now been added through this.” He added, “It’s going to open up areas for liability that we have never seen before. And our counties and our cities, our highway departments, every state agency we have, I think, is going to be subject to things that they have never even thought about.”
“More money for insurance or claims means less money for essential services or higher taxes,” said Santa Fe County Attorney Greg Shaffer during testimony against the bill in a Senate committee. “This shifting of risk impacts all citizens,” he said. “More money for insurance or claims means less money for essential services or higher taxes.”
In a previous hearing of the bill, Detective Shaun Willoughby of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said, “This particular bill takes away our ability. This is basically a tax increase. We are taxing the public all over the state of New Mexico. Hurting budgets that can be used for training on the mental health, can be used for resources and social programs in the poorest state in the nation.”
Proponents of the police-attacking bill came sponsored by dark money groups like billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s “Moms Demand Action,” the Soros-funded “Sierra Club,” “ProgressNow New Mexico,” and “Equality New Mexico.” These groups’ supporters claimed H.B. 4 was a necessary reform for civil rights while not addressing how it would cripple local municipalities’ budgets, open these localities to million-dollar frivolous lawsuits, and put targets on peace officers’ backs.
Egolf has been criticized for sponsoring the bill, as it would directly benefit his private law practice, which is 60% civil litigation and claims. His unethical sponsorship of the bill led a prominent retired judge to file an ethics complaint against Egolf. He had his lawyer file a motion to dismiss the ethics complaint, as reported on Friday. During House consideration of H.B. 4, Egolf voted against an amendment proposed by Rep. T. Ryan Lane (R-San Juan) to bar legislators from financially benefiting from the bill.
The measure barely squeaked by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a vote of 5-4, with Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Bernalillo) voting with all Republicans against the radical measure. Another similar measure was brought forth by Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) regarding tort claims and qualified immunity. However, it was swiftly rejected, with two Democrats voting to kill the bill. Cervantes also may profit off of his co-sponsorship of H.B. 4 despite his claims that he has “no conflict of interest or financial motive in bringing this legislation.” Only time will tell on that.
The Senate amended the bill to eliminate mandatory attorney fees. However, the small concession did not fix New Mexico’s small communities and local governments’ many concerns. In its amended form, the bill will go to the House of Representatives for concurrence before it is sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for a signature. It passed the Senate on a 26-15 with one Democrat in opposition, Sen, George Muñoz (Cibola, McKinley, and San Juan), siding with all Republicans against the extreme bill.
According to the New Mexico House Republicans at 10:37 p.m. on Tuesday that “[W]e are recessed until the Speaker’s bill, HB 4, is passed by the Senate and he can bring it to our chamber for concurrence.”