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County commission to hold special meeting

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The Chaves County Board of Commissioners is planning a special meeting Thursday to hear from a state epidemiologist and to consider a resolution opposing state House Bill 4, the proposed New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

The meeting has been scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place.

County management has said that social distancing and face coverings will be required if people attend in person and that meetings during the pandemic also will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ChavesCountyNM.

The meeting is expected to include a presentation by Dr. Daniel Sosin, a medical epidemiologist with the emerging infections program of the New Mexico Department of Health.

The commissioners previously had requested a meeting with a state Health Department official to discuss how data regarding the coronavirus is collected and analyzed, since it is used to determine school and business closures.

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Commissioners also have scheduled a possible vote on a resolution requested by the New Mexico Counties association that would express opposition to House Bill 4, which is now being considered by House committees.

Commissioners already voted 5-0 in November on a similar resolution. Before the current legislation had been introduced, they and other members of the New Mexico Counties association expressed strong opposition to the legislative recommendations announced by a report of the Civil Right Commission.

The county document that accompanies the Feb. 4 meeting agenda states, “The suggestions by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, including removing the cap on compensatory damages for civil rights violations by law enforcement officers, has the potential to bankrupt counties, municipalities and school districts and does not address the root causes of these types of claims.”

According to a Legislative Fiscal Impact Report, the act would provide a way for people to sue state and local governments and other public bodies for violations of their state constitutional rights. It would make it impossible for public entities and the people acting on their behalf to claim “qualified immunity” from liability. The Fiscal Impact Report estimated that annual increases in judgments and attorney fees would be about $7 million, while the annual increase would be about $13 million if litigation costs are included.

Proponents of the bill have said that the act would fill a “narrow gap” between other state laws that already allow people to collect judgments against public bodies. Also, the Civil Rights Commission states in its final report that an analysis of federal district court cases filed in New Mexico found that only a small number of cases were dismissed solely because of the “qualified immunity” defense that the act would eliminate.

Interim County Manager Bill Williams said HB 4 could “devastate” local public bodies and “require taxation to cover frivolous lawsuits.”