New Mexico lawmakers agree to statewide body camera requirements
(TNS) – New Mexico lawmakers concluded a historic special session on Monday by granting final approval for legislation requiring police officers to wear body cameras and authorizing up to $ 400 million in low-rate loans to interest in helping small businesses survive.
The State House passed the two measures inside a largely empty Capitol Building – two days after the Senate left the building, having already completed its work.
Bills are now heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called the Legislative Assembly into special session on Thursday – though the Roundhouse remained closed to the public as a health measure.
“This special session has generated hundreds of millions of investments in small businesses and local governments and economies; it has welcomed and preserved much of the critical progress we have begun to make in our public education system as we begin to navigate a new global economic reality; and it started, in earnest, an important and belated conversation about accountability in law enforcement and ensuring a fair and safe New Mexico for all, ”Lujan Grisham said in a short release. after the adjournment.
The body camera legislation – passed by 44 to 26 on Monday – calls on law enforcement officers in New Mexico to wear cameras and activate them when answering calls. Senate Bill 8 would also order a state council to revoke the certification of any officer convicted of illegal use of force.
Senate Bill 3 was also approved, which would establish a new loan program to help small businesses and local governments damaged by the pandemic. He won bipartisan support, dropping 59-5.
Representative Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, called the Camera Bill a critical step in responding to the call for reform amid nationwide protest against police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who begged for his breath as a white officer buried a knee in his neck.
Over the past five years, New Mexico has recorded the highest per capita police murder rate in the country, according to legislative analysts. This month, a Las Cruces police officer was charged in the death of Antonio Valenzuela, who died after using a vascular neck brace.
“In the community I call home, like so many across the country, our loved ones have faced police brutality and violence,” said Lara Cadena.
Supporters of the bill said on Monday that the cameras would add transparency and accountability, shielding officers from false accusations and shedding light on deadly encounters with police.
Opponents attacked the measure as an unfunded warrant that would discourage people from pursuing careers in law enforcement, exacerbating officer shortages statewide.
They also argued that now is not the right time to enact the legislation – as the Capitol is closed to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, limiting opportunities for public testimony.
Minority House Leader James Townsend R-Artesia accused Democrats of rushing the bill without proper scrutiny.
“We didn’t have an agent come in and comment. … They have serious concerns – serious concerns – with this legislation, ”Townsend said.
The House was alone on the Capitol on Monday. The Senate completed its work on Saturday and adjourned without any plans to return, unless the House requires it.
During the special session, lawmakers pledged to ensure the debates are streamed online, although technical issues interrupted each chamber’s work on several occasions on Thursday, the first day of the session.
House committees accepted public testimony as part of a webinar program. Senate committees took written testimony by e-mail.
But the volume of public comment was much lower than in a typical session, when committee rooms are often filled with people willing to testify for or against the bills.
“I really hope we never have to do a hybrid session again with virtual attendance,” Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe said before the House adjourned.
Police body camera legislation, sponsored by Democratic Senator Joseph Cervantes de Las Cruces, was passed by the Senate last week on 31-11. Five Republicans from Albuquerque or Rio Rancho joined all Democrats in favor of the bill.
But debate in the House has moved closer to party lines. Only two Democrats, Joseph Sanchez d’Alcalde and Candie Sweetser de Deming, crossed party lines and joined Republicans against the bill.
If enacted, the proposal would come into effect in 90 days.
Lujan Grisham thanked lawmakers for passing the measure. She described it as “a big step towards ensuring the accountability of law enforcement.”
Every law enforcement agency should develop policies requiring that officers who regularly interact with the public wear cameras and enforce discipline for non-compliance.
Officers should activate cameras when answering calls or interacting with a member of the public for law enforcement or investigative purposes. The video would be kept for at least 120 days.
Law enforcement agencies could be held liable for spoiling evidence if their agents violate camera policies.
The legislation does not specifically prohibit strangulation – an idea supported by Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas – but it deals more broadly with the illegal use of force.
It demands that the Council of the State Law Enforcement Academy permanently revoke the certification of any officer convicted of a crime involving the unlawful use of force, unlawful threat of force, or failure to act. intervention in the illegal use of force.
The requirement for a camera could be costly for departments that do not already have one. Legislative analysts have estimated the cost of purchasing the cameras at $ 795 each and storing the video at $ 4,920 per camera per year, based on the experience of state police, where the cameras are already. used.
Albuquerque Police already have body-worn cameras, although Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales has repeatedly resisted calls for MPs to carry cameras.
After the closed-door debate, the House on Saturday night approved Senate Bill 3, a proposal that would allow the state to provide low-interest loans to help small businesses and local governments. Money from the Permanent Severance Tax Fund would finance the loans.
“The purpose of the loan is to create economic wealth – economic recovery – at a time when many companies, without having to do anything, are in dire straits,” said Representative Marian Matthews, Albuquerque Democrat and co. -sponsor of the bill.
Opponents have questioned whether low-interest loans would endanger public funds or generate a high return on investment. They said there were better ways to help the economy, such as easing trade restrictions.
“I think this is probably one of the worst programs we could have come up with to help small businesses get back on their feet,” said Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales.
In total, lawmakers passed seven bills during the four-day special session.
Other measures adopted include fiscal solvency bills aimed at absorbing a sharp drop in income caused by the pandemic and falling oil prices, as well as legislation amending the state’s electoral system with a general election. high stakes in just four months.
© 2020 Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.