ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque city councilors hope to crack down on enforcing the public health order — and they hope new legislation will make people think twice about violating it. With the number of COVID cases continuing to spike, Albuquerque City Councilors Cynthia Borrego and Isaac Benton are introducing a new bill, they hope, will better allow city employees to enforce the public health order for those who refuse to comply.

“It’s really important that we all work together but for the people who don’t feel like they can work with this, it puts another layer, basically, of enforcement,” said Councilor Borrego, who serves District Five. “For people who are just resistant and have that sentiment that ‘I’m not going to cooperate’, unfortunately, we need to do something to bring those numbers down and that’s what this really is doing.”

The bill would put new wording into city ordinance, making it illegal to “interfere” or “impede” with enforcing the public health order. Borrego says the bill is inspired, in part by the consistent violations they’re seeing like businesses exceeding occupancy limits, staying open past 10 p.m., and even people refusing to wear a mask in public. The councilor thinks the ordinance gives the city’s public health order enforcement team another tool to be more aggressive in calling out people breaking the rules.

“It’s creating a penalty, which if you’re just going to be someone who says, ‘no, I don’t want to do it,’ it will give you that little push because you’re going to think twice about not doing it. We have a responsibility to ensure that our public is protected,” said Borrego. “So if police or fire goes after someone like that and asks someone and they refuse, then they can impose a fine up to $500.”

Borrego says, if approved, the bill could also include penalties like up to 90 days in jail for refusing to comply with the public health order. The bill’s co-sponsor, Councilor Ike Benton, tells us stronger enforcement is needed and he has concerns about public health directives being ignored, so he hopes this added city ordinance, on top of state law, will make people take the orders more seriously.

Borrego says councilors are also hoping to get more updates on a regular basis of how many warnings and citations are being issued. The bill will be heard in the city council meeting set for Dec. 7.