Supreme Court says state has authority to enforce health orders

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SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Legislature has authorized state officials to impose civil administrative penalties to enforce the public health order in restricting business operations, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court in an opinion issued Thursday. The Court’s unanimous written opinion provides the detailed legal reasoning for an oral decision issued form the bench in August following a hearing in which attorneys presented arguments to the justices.

This stems from a lawsuit brought by a group of businesses in district court challenging emergency health orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham petitioned the state’s highest court to resolve the dispute.

The Court concluded that the Legislature empowered the governor and other state officials to enforce restrictions from the public health order on businesses through a provision in the Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA) which provides for a fine of $5,000 a day for violations. Officials say the law offers due process to those facing potential civil penalties because the Department of Health must conduct an administrative hearing before a fine can be imposed.

The Court did not address a legal question regarding the state compensating businesses who had to temporarily close or other health order restrictions because those actions represent a “taking” of private property by the government. The justice said the records and filings in the case provided “insufficient facts” to resolve the issue.

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