Senate passes Civil Rights bill in late-night vote


The New Mexico Senate passed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act on a 26-15 vote taken after midnight, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 17.

House Bill 4 was proposed by a civil rights commission formed by legislation passed during a special session last June. It will remove the protection of qualified immunity from public employees, and allow for lawsuits by those who have had their civil rights violated. Republicans opposed the bill as being anti-police.

Sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said the legislation came as the result of the horrific death of George Floyd in Minnesota last May which sparked outrage and protests throughout the nation and caused New Mexico legislators to re-examine laws safeguarding civil rights.

The bill now goes back to the House, which must agree to changes made in the Senate. It originally passed the House on a 39-29 vote in February.

Paid sick leave

Legislation to require employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, March 16, after Chair Joseph Cervantes attempted to secure assurances from the sponsors that they would not seek to undo changes made in the committee.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, joined with Republicans in opposing the bill. He said he supported what it was trying to do, but had numerous problems with provisions in the legislation that he said did not conform with existing state and federal law.

The bill would allow workers to accumulate paid sick leave based on the number of hours worked. It is opposed by business groups who say they can't afford the extra expense at this time. The bill now moves to the full Senate.

Breaking away

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to allow New Mexico State University’s Carlsbad branch campus to break off and form its own independent community college. The bill now goes to the governor for signing.

“Carlsbad has agreed to tax itself to support the community college,” said sponsor Sen. Gay Kernan, R Hobbs. “I think it’s a model of how we move forward if we’re going to sustain this level of higher education infrastructure.”

Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said she supports NMSU, but didn’t hear from university officials until late in the process.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.