Rep. Liz Thomson
Santa Fe — Law enforcement officers in New Mexico will be informed in advance if they are approaching a vehicle where the driver or occupant may be unable to communicate with them, under new legislation passed by the House of Representatives Wednesday.
Sponsored by Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque), House Bill 223 creates a statewide “non-traditional communication or disability registry,” allowing law enforcement officers to identify vehicles that may be driven or occupied by someone with a condition or disability that may make them unable to communicate or respond appropriately to the officer’s commands or someone who might be affected by their use of flashing lights.
The bill requires that law enforcement officers consult the registry prior to interacting with a person in a vehicle, if practical in the situation, and take appropriate precautions. If the registry reveals that someone who may be in the vehicle has a seizure disorder or photosensitive epilepsy, the officer must minimize the use of flashing lights, if it is safe to do so.
“There are a number of conditions which might affect an individual’s ability to communicate with a police offer, understand and follow their commands, or result in adverse reactions when they’re pulled over,” Rep. Thomson said. “By creating a way for law enforcement to access relevant medical information about the vehicle’s potential occupants in advance, we can avoid troublesome situations where a cooperative person may appear to be noncompliant, or where the officer’s car lights may trigger medical problems.”
Conditions and disabilities covered in the registry include an autism spectrum disorder, deafness, a brain injury, an intellectual disability, or a seizure disorder. Participation in the registry is optional, and may be acquired through the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) when applying for registration of the vehicle and certificate of title. Registrants must provide satisfactory evidence of their condition as diagnosed by a licensed health practitioner. The registry would be accessible to agencies that enforce traffic laws, but not publicly available.
House Bill 223 passed the House with a vote of 54-12, and goes to the Senate for consideration.
Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.