Bill to create Civil Rights Division awaits governor’s signature

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SANTA FE, N.M. – One thing the Legislature did in the final days of the session, was creating a new Civil Rights Division to be enforced by the attorney general. It would give some more power to the attorney general not only now, but in the future.

Before it becomes official, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham still needs to sign off on it, and it’s unclear if she will put her pen to the paper on this one.

The attorney general’s office says the new division will be an important part of making sure the public agencies in the state are held accountable.

The AG’s office is eager to get started on this. Officials with the office say right now there’s really not a mechanism or entity to enforce anti-discrimination or civil rights violations.

While it would apply to any government agency, Attorney General Raúl Torrez says this could have a meaningful impact on child welfare in the state.

“The Civil Rights Division of the attorney general’s office, I think it’s a big step forward,” said Speaker of the House Javier Martinez. 

James Grayson chief deputy attorney general says it’s a step toward accountability of public agencies and employees who work for them.

“It applies to any governmental agency, so it could apply for example to racial discrimination and discipline that’s handed out in public education. It could apply to law enforcement violation of civil rights. or in abuse and neglect proceedings,” said Grayson. 

Child welfare is a big piece of that. The legislation would give the AG’s office the ability to review even confidential records like those at CYFD.

“Instances where there are reports of abuse and neglect, instances where foster children don’t have access to the resources that they need. Recently, we had a really disturbing incident at a state facility where a child in the custody of CYFD was assaulted. All of those things would come under the purview of the Civil Rights Division,” said Torrez. 

In order to get started the legislation needs to be signed by the governor.

“I don’t know what we’ll do, but I appreciate that the Legislature was very serious about giving us tools to improve outcomes for kids,” said Lujan Grisham. 

Grayson says they already have money in the budget to hire five to 10 new attorneys, as well as other necessary staff members.

Depending on if and when it is signed by the governor, they are hoping to get things going in July. 

The governor has until the beginning of April to sign – or veto – over 200 bills and this would be a big one.