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Lawmakers introduce bill to protect businesses from COVID lawsuits

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A Chaves County lawmaker has introduced a bill during the special legislative session to protect individuals and their businesses and organizations from potential coronavirus-related lawsuits.

On Friday, state Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, introduced House Bill 16 (HB 16) which would provide immunity from liability from tort claims relating to the pandemic.

“New Mexicans need work not lawsuits,” Anderson said Friday.

Fellow Republican Reps. David Gallegos of Eunice, Jack Chatfield of Mosquero, Rachel Black of Alamogordo and Randall Crowder of Clovis also introduced the bill.

In addition to businesses, the immunity protections would also apply to hospitals, churches and civic organizations who are trying to conduct economic and civic activities in a responsible way.

If enacted into law, HB 16 would prevent an individual operator of a business, facility or activity that is open to the public from being held liable when damages or injuries are alleged to result from exposure or possible exposure to the novel coronavirus, as long as that operator complies with federal and state laws providing guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus, according to the text of the legislation.

Anderson contends that what he characterizes as frivolous lawsuits have the potential to burden businesses, something that needs to be avoided.

“It’s a potential area of litigation that has no limits. We need to head that off at the pass,” he said.

Despite what Anderson calls broad-based support for such a measure, he said that because it was not included on the governor’s call for a special session, he is pessimistic about the chance for passage.

Daniel Marzec, a spokesperson for House Democrats, said Saturday the governor sets the agenda for the special session and because it was not on her call, the legislation would not be heard.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the special session mainly to address the estimated $2.4 billion state budget deficit caused by the economic effects from the state’s response to pandemic and falling oil prices, though a number of other items were included on Lujan Grisham’s call to the Legislature, including loans to businesses, individuals and municipalities impacted by the pandemic, voting reform and police reforms.

Anderson, however, said even if it is not brought up for a vote, he hopes that at minimum, the introduction of the bill will spur discussion on the subject.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.