- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A week after a heated exchange sparked by a Democratic member stalled a vote, a New Mexico House panel passed Tuesday with no recommendation a proposed reform of solitary confinement.

The House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee voted 6-0 to move along a measure that would ban the use of solitary confinement on juveniles and inmates suffering from mental illness. The bill also would limit solitary confinement to no more than consecutive 15 days and no more than 60 days a year.

The proposal comes after a number of high-profile lawsuits by inmates who alleged that they were placed in inhumane and filthy isolation cells in state prisons or county jails.

Matthew Coyte, an attorney who has won millions in lawsuits against the state and counties over solitary confinement conditions, said the bill would put him out of business.

“That’s what I want,” Coyte said. “These solitary confinement conditions are absolutely deplorable.”

In 2013, Dona Ana County reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case involving a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial. The inmate man took out his own tooth during his confinement, according to the lawsuit.

Los Lunas County recently reached a $1.6 million settlement with a female inmate who said she was denied treatment for her bipolar disorder while in and out of a solitary confinement unit for two years. A sock rotted into an open wound on her foot, and she was forced to sleep in a shower, the lawsuit said.

Coyte was an attorney in both of those cases.

Last week, a meeting on the bill ended abruptly after Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, refused to stop talking over the objections of chairman Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque, who then adjourned the meeting. She questioned why anyone would oppose it, which led to the heated exchange.

Caballero, a Democrat, faced criticism last month when she compared the federal Real ID Act and repeal of the state’s immigrant driver’s license law to the Holocaust. She later apologized.

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