SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Two years ago, the state’s legislators created the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. The law, crafted in the wake of nationwide protests in response to the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, aims to add accountability to policing, according to its supporter. On Saturday, that act was challenged.

Republican Representative John Block (Alamogordo) sponsored a bill to repeal the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. On Saturday, he brought the idea to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Some members of the public supported Block’s attempt to repeal the law, saying that the Civil Rights Act opens the door for lawsuits. “The increase in litigation is not helpful in any regard,” Larry Sonntag, a former police officer, said. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act, as it currently stands, he said, is causing problems for police departments.

Others spoke against repealing the Civil Rights Act. Julianna Koob, a lobbyist representing the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, opposed Block’s bill. “What we don’t hear are the individuals that are harmed by big institutions, big companies, big government,” Koob said. “We need the civil rights law to stay intact, and we also need to make sure that we’re thinking about the individuals that the Civil Rights Act protects.”

Some advocates for repealing the Civil Rights Act framed it as a cost-saving measure for the government. But Nayomi Valdez, the director of public policy at the American Civil Liberties Union – New Mexico, said that’s the wrong way to look at it. “We would encourage government to look at the problem, which is civil rights violations, rather than avoid accountability,” Valdez said.

With or without the Civil Rights Act in place, government entities often face lawsuits. A KRQE News 13 investigation revealed that in Albuquerque alone, dozens of lawsuits were brought against the city’s police department, costing taxpayers over $68 million dollars since 2012.

The New Mexico Civil Rights Act allows people to sue the government in state court for civil rights violations. It also prevents police and other government workers from using ‘qualified immunity’ as a legal defense (I.e. the NM Civil Rights Act allows government workers to be held personally liable for civil rights violations).

Since the New Mexico Civil Rights Act became law in 2021, a number of cases have been brought to the courts under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. But none have been concluded yet, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.

Ultimately, legislators voted to table Block’s bill on Saturday. In addition, the committee voted to table a related bill aiming to reinstate the use of qualified immunity as a legal defense.