Senate committee advances anti-police bill that could bankrupt local governments

On Friday, the New Mexico Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted to pass the anti-law enforcement H.B. 4, which passed on a partisan vote of 5-3. The bill would open local governments into bankrupting civil rights claims in state court, remove “qualified immunity,” and put a target on law enforcers’ backs.

During the hearing, bill sponsor House Speaker Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) spoke down to New Mexicans and critics of the bill, accusing them of “conflating” tort claims and civil rights claims while bashing attorney Grace Philips of the New Mexico Association of Counties, claiming her very real arguments about localities and law enforcements being hurt by the bill were “hollow.” 

During public testimony, many law enforcers, law enforcement advocates, and representatives from small counties spoke out against the extreme anti-police bill, which would put targets on the backs of law enforcers and bankrupt local governments by forcing civil litigation into state courts while adding no protections for the counties. 

Detective Shaun Willoughby of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said during public testimony, “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.” 

“It is alarming to me that during COVID–during the most unprecedented in modern history that anybody can remember where businesses are closing, we’ve been on lockdowns, people are out of work, and the poorest state becomes poorer, we choose now to attack the budgets of every single municipality to include the State of New Mexico who are going to be inundated with frivolous lawsuits,” Willoughby said. 

“This does nothing for accountability. This does nothing for meaningful reform. Reform is something you do with your law enforcement agencies, not to.”  

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,” 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. Below are examples of people who testified against the bill. NOTE: Their names and faces have been blurred out to protect their identities.

Sen. David Gallegos asked Egolf about this act making localities uninsurable due to the expected high payouts by local governments with the implementation of the act. Egolf responded, “I do not believe that this will make any entity in government, especially with the amendment adopted earlier, I don’t think this will make them at risk of being uninsurable.” 

Sen. Stuart Ingle (D-Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea, and Roosevelt) made a closing comment on the bill, saying, “I visualize this as something that’s going to be unbelievably damaging to the outlook of New Mexico and when we try to recruit businesses and things to come in here when we pass things like this, it sends a very, very dark message as to where New Mexico is headed.” 

H.B. 4 now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will be considered before being voted on the Senate floor. 

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.

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