Big promises by elected officials about the urgency of adding police reform to the special session agenda saw little payout.
With the Senate adjourning over the weekend, the House was due to convene at 11 am to tackle a short agenda. Nearly two hours after that scheduled time, however, Democrats finally emerged from behind closed doors and began the day's public debate.
But promised proposals to make cop disciplinary records public and ban chokeholds never crossed the speaker's table. A measure to standardize use-of-force reviews was dead on arrival.
Legislators did, however, adopt a measure to require the use of body-worn cameras by all police; Senate Bill 8 passed Friday on the Senate floor, then earned approval from the House on a vote of 44-26 Monday afternoon (largely along party lines with Republicans voting against.)
Most other police reform efforts fell far short of stated goals.
The Senate Committees Committee stalled on Senate Bill 17, which calls for a statewide review process in use of force by police; the House version, House Bill 7, also never moved from that chamber's Rules Committee.
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe and SCC vice chair, tells SFR the measure led by Sen. Antionette Sedillo Lopez and co-sponsored by three other Albuquerque Democrats died when the committee ruled it "not germane." While the committee approved debate on two pieces of legislation related to police reform, that proposal was among ideas not specifically mentioned in the governor's opening proclamation read on the Senate floor, colloquially referred to as her session "call."
A similar proposal, Wirth notes, was introduced in the 30-day session in January and also didn't make it out of committee.
"The determination was made that it wasn't cooked…In a special session, you can't drop a bill that has huge debate on both sides and that has huge implications on both sides," he said. "There's just not time to get sufficient input to get those figured out."
Wirth says the bill was important to him, and he expects it will be part of an "omnibus police reform package in January," when the Legislature convenes again.
Rather than addressing the doctrine of "qualified immunity" for police sued in civil matters, the Senate and the House instead adopted a measure to study it along with creating a Civil Rights Commission, also expected to make recommendations for the next session's proposed legislation.
Both an announcement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a House communications office said last week that proposed legislation banning police use of chokeholds was forthcoming from Rep. Micaela Cadena and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, both Democrats from Mesilla, but that language also didn't make it to the hasty draft of a bill that instead only addressed body-worn cameras.
"You heard at various times before the session there was some thought of creating a felony crime of strangulation. Rather than pursue that, we have adopted a Colorado-centric alternative, which is to provide for a revocation on a plea of guilty or a conviction or a civil adjudication against a law enforcement officer of a crime of excessive use of force," Cervantes explained in a presentation to the Senate Rules Committee on June 19.
As adopted, the law requires agencies to adopt policies and procedures "requiring activation of a body-worn camera whenever a peace officer is responding to a call for service or at the initiation of any other law enforcement or investigative encounter between a peace officer and a member of the public." It requires retainment of video files for 120 days after the encounter and has an effective date in September, but has no attached appropriation.
Cadena said 26 of the state's 33 county sheriff departments are already using body-worn cameras, as are large municipal police agencies in cities including Albuquerque and Santa Fe's.
Cadena introduced the law, she said, in large part because of a February case in which an officer with Las Cruces Police Department choked and killed a man. Police video helped show the chain of events.
"In the community I call home, just like so many across the country, our families and our loved ones have faced police brutality and violence and they have demanded we show up in their name, in their honor and in their cause for justice," she said just before the final floor vote.
Republicans argued for extending the amount of time agencies have to comply with the rule due to the cost of equipment and data storage, but efforts at amendment failed.
Albuquerque Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, a former police officer who was among a small number of Democrats to vote against the bill, also advocated for slowing the process.
"Our biggest challenge is that we are not hearing from the community on both sides," he argued.
Ruilbola's term ends this year, as a judge disqualified him from the June primary ballot because of a paperwork error.
When it comes to police records, the record isn't straight.
The governor announced a day before the session began that she wanted lawmakers to explicitly declare police discipline records a matter of public scrutiny. Even though transparency advocates and this newspaper believe state law already allows for public review, the city of Santa Fe and other cities and counties in the state have relied on case law they say keeps those records a secret. SFR has sued the city in District Court over the interpretation of the law.
If it ever was visible, a clarification on the matter from the Roundhouse quickly slipped from the horizon. No legislators introduced measures addressing the issue.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, replied to SFR's inquiry with a statement insisting police discipline as well as chokehold "matters were on her call, and we expected them to be addressed in the legislation."
"It might've been the lack of time to win broad support for these measures…or simply that the Legislature would prefer to take up significant items like that in a regular 60-day session," she writes. "Certainly we'll keep working with them toward that, as these are issues the governor supports and specifically wants addressed."