AG Raúl Torrez responds to pocket veto of Civil Rights Division

[anvplayer video=”5171990″ station=”998122″]

SANTA FE, N.M. – One of the bills Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed last week would’ve created a Civil Rights Division at the Attorney General’s Office.

While Attorney General Raúl Torrez is disappointed this bill wasn’t signed, he said they are now exploring what other options they have going forward.

“I still have a duty to protect vulnerable communities, and I have stated repeatedly that my top priority is protecting New Mexico’s children, particularly vulnerable children,” said Torrez.

Torrez says the AG’s office could still make a Civil Rights Division without any legislation, but this bill would have broadened the scope of civil rights cases they can take up.

“What Senate Bill 426 would have done is create new investigative tools, civil investigative demands, so we could open investigations in everything from CYFD failure, to protect children, to racial discrimination, gender discrimination,” Torrez said.  

Torrez says a majority of states already have a Civil Rights Division in their AG’s offices, so he was confused when he heard the governor say she was still trying to decide to sign the bill or not.

“We have so much public safety issues, some of the reasons you are not seeing enough of the civil rights actions they can’t do the civil side, because they are busy dealing with crime, because we are not doing the work we need to do in public safety,” said Lujan Grisham.

“I listened to those remarks several times, and frankly I couldn’t understand it, it didn’t make any sense to me. There were provisions in the budget, we actually build our budget around an increase in the litigation capacity to make sure we have enough paralegal litigators, and prosecutors to do this work,” said Torrez.

KOB 4 reached out to the governors’ office again after speaking to the AG for more insight into why she decided not to sign the bill.

A statement was sent to KOB 4 from her office, saying in part:

“There are several issues with this well-intentioned bill that we believe would muddy the intent of the legislation. Instead, this legislation would likely add barriers for child victims to access resources, and create confusion among entities already doing this work. We also believe that much of the work outlined in the legislation can be undertaken by the AG regardless of whether or not the bill is signed.”

And that is exactly what Torrez plans to do.

“We are going to look at the inherent authority that we have, and it came up in discussions in the Legislature, what the inherent authority in the AG’s office. We have quite a bit of power to initiate both civil and criminal actions when we believe it’s in the best interest of the public, so we will be acting off that authority,” said Torrez. 

Torrez says his office will be announcing those new programs as they come online. He added that he will continue to work with the Legislature, and the governor to get the tools, and funding needed on both the civil and criminal fronts.