SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s public record laws allow citizens, journalists, and businesses to access documents and records created by elected officials and government agencies. But not everything can be made public, and in 2023, lawmakers made some adjustments to the rules.
House Bill 232, a bipartisan bill, made its way through the Roundhouse, and after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law, New Mexico’s public records request law now has new exemptions and clarifies what the public must ask for in order to request certain law enforcement records.
The new law says that the government is not required to release public records about IT systems that reveal vulnerabilities in the system. That addition to the law comes after several attacks on public tech systems, such as a cyberattack on Albuquerque Public Schools.
The law also now adds to the info that law enforcement can redact before releasing records. Before the change, law enforcement was allowed to redact things such as information that could reveal confidential information. Now, the list of potential redactions also includes visual depictions of dead bodies or visual depictions of great bodily harm unless that harm is suspected to have been caused by a law enforcement officer.
The idea is to protect victims of crime, according to lawmakers. “I think this is a commonsense bill to protect people who are on those tapes,” Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-ABQ.) said during a final discussion of the bill on the Senate floor.
The new law says that in order to request police video or audio, the public has to include at least one of the computer-aided dispatch record numbers, the police report number, or the date (or date range) of the event with “reasonable specificity.”
If the public is simply using dates to identify the records, the person making the request has to include at least one of the names of a law enforcement officer or responder involved in the event, the approximate time, or the approximate location. Police departments can also set other criteria to help the public access records.
If you want to request police video or audio but don’t have that information, the new law requires that police departments let members of the public view police video or audio “on-site” at the police department without providing those details. But to get a copy of the video or audio, you need to meet the criteria above.
The law also exempts certain business information held by the state’s Tourism Department from public records. And information submitted to scholarship programs, competitive grants, and land lease awards is not requestable public records until the finalists for the competitive process are named.
While discussing the bill at the Roundhouse, lawmakers noted that there will likely be more efforts to change the state’s public records laws in upcoming lawmaking sessions. In particular, some lawmakers seem interested in creating more exemptions in order to make sure that victims of crimes aren’t inadvertently exposed via public records.