January 23, 2020

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session.

There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session.

Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.

Lujan Grisham said through her written statement she wants to expand the definition of human trafficking in New Mexico, increase felony penalties, create a minimum term of imprisonment of three years if the victim is under the age of 16 and prevent law enforcement from charging victims as sex workers.

January is the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. A nonprofit formed recently in Gallup called the New Mexico Indigenous Women’s Resource Council. Board president Sonlatsa Jim-Martin, Navajo-Modoc, said human trafficking is worse than officials think.

Services for human trafficking

Other bills related to addressing human trafficking were not on Lujan Grisham’s list, but the lawmakers behind them are seeking appropriation so they could be considered germane and be taken up in the House Appropriation and Finance Committee.

State Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, prefiled SB 66, which would appropriate $250,000 from the general fund to provide services to minors who are victims of human trafficking and who are trafficked within the U.S.

Tallman said that currently, victims sometimes have to go out of state to seek adequate shelter and help. The Crime Victim Reparations Commission would administer the funds.

“It’s a huge problem,” Tallman said. “It’s under the radar and it’s a bigger problem than people realize.

Lynn Sanchez, human trafficking aftercare director for The Life Link, a Santa Fe organization that helps people without a home and in need of behavioral health, said this money would go to aid children who are not within the Children, Youth and Families Department. She said there are thousands of homeless kids in Santa Fe and Albuquerque who are in danger of being trafficked or sometimes are. She said that in past years local agencies have seen six children a year who are victims of human trafficking, but last year, there were over 100. Some of that is because awareness is rising and law enforcement no longer criminalize the victims by arresting them for sex work.

“The state has no services for minors. We’re sending them to institutions in other states that are not appropriate for chronic trauma,” Sanchez said.

This is a first-time bill.

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, prefiled HB 101, which would make $350,000 available from the general fund to the Crime Victims Reparation Commission to help adults who have been victims of human trafficking.

Adults often show up at a shelter after 5 p.m. or on weekends with little more than the clothes they have on their backs, Sanchez said. She said shelters and agencies are already servicing this population but the appropriation would help provide state dollars to those agencies. She said that last week her group had to find a motel for a pregnant woman who is Indigenous and a victim of human trafficking and the victim arrived at the end of a work day.

“She had nothing, no food or anything,” Sanchez said.

The bill has passed the last four years but for lesser amounts of money.

Tightening sex offender laws

Lujan Grisham also put HB 43 on the call for the session. Prefiled by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, the bill would mean someone who is a registered sex offender in another state or jurisdiction would have to register as a sex offender in New Mexico if that person spends more than 10 consecutive days or more than 20 nonconsecutive days within one calendar year within the state.

Lujan Grisham said in a written statement this bill would “broaden state sex offender registration requirements to require those who are registered as a sex offender in another state to register as such in New Mexico, in addition to requiring sex offender registration for those convicted of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children by prostitution.”

New York Financier Jeffrey Epstein did not have to register as a sex offender in New Mexico even though he registered as a sex offender in the state of Florida due to a sex case involving at least one victim as young as 14. Epstein owned a home outside of Santa Fe.

Appropriations to raise awareness about long-acting reversible contraception

State Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, prefiled SB 40, which would appropriate $1.2 million from the general fund to the state Department of Health to mentor and train health care professionals on long-acting reversible contraception, such as injections, intrauterine devices (IUD’s) and subdermal contraception. In a similar move, she prefiled SB 41, which would appropriate $500,000 to DOH to launch a public awareness campaign around long-acting reversible contraception.

Papen was one of the eight Democratic senators who sided with Republicans last year and voted against the repeal to the 1969 New Mexico law that would make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned. She said these bills were a “reaction” to the effort last year at repealing that ban.

“I do support Roe v. Wade but I think the bottom line is, if you don’t want to get pregnant, these long-acting contraceptives will keep you from getting pregnant,” she said. “I’m hoping eventually contraception will be like aspirin.”

Appropriations to study childhood trauma

Sponsored by state Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, SB 35, would appropriate $6 million from the general fund to the New Mexico State University Board of Regents for the next two fiscal years to support Anna, Age Eight Institute. The organization studies and delivers data-driven information on childhood trauma.

Appropriations for paid family medical leave

HB 16 would enable New Mexican workers to take up to 12 weeks for medical issues, welcome a child or care for a family member. The bill would appropriate $1 million from the general fund for the Department of Workforce Solutions to start an insurance pool that would then be funded through a tax on both employees and employers. Employees would pay 0.5 percent tax per paycheck. Employers would pay 0.4 percent tax on each employee. Self-employed workers could pay the full 0.9 percent tax to participate in the program. The time off would then be paid for through the insurance pool.

The Paid Family Medical Leave Act would expand upon Lujan Grisham’s executive order made earlier this year. That order enables state workers to take time off to welcome a new child. 

Related: Guv gives state employees paid family leave, some hope to take it further

Additional bills

There are additional pre-filed bills which did not make Lujan Grisham’s call and are not seeking appropriations. But, Lujan Grisham can add any issue to the list of topics to be discussed at any time during the legislative session and any of these bills could be on a later call list.

*Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, prefiled HB 21, which would not allow settlements of workplace sexual harrassment or sexual assault to to include nondisclosure agreements as a term of employment. Hochman-Vigil said that often victims must sign a nondisclosure agreement to settle a case. Hochman-Vigil said doing so silences victims and allows sexual assault perpetrators to continue to offend without detection.

*State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, prefiled SB 97, which extends the statue of limitations on certain offenses when children are the victims. Currently, criminal penetration of a minor over the age of 13 has a six-year time limit after the victim turns 18. But advocates of the bill say that’s not long enough. This bill would extend the time limit so a minor over the age of 13 but younger than 18 would have until the age of 30 to file a report.

Abrianna Morales, an 18-year-old student at the University of New Mexico, has been a vocal advocate of this bill. She drew attention to the bill when the legislature attempted to pass it last year.

*State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, prefiled SB 106, which would allow victims of sexual assault or domestic violence to end a lease agreement without penalty to protect their safety. The victim would need to provide the landlord with either a court order or a letter from a social service agency verifying the victim’s assault. In addition, the bill would enable a victim to remove the perpetrator off a lease or add the victim to the lease. The bill would also allow a victim of rape or sexual assault in the area of the residence to break lease without penalty if the victim no longer feels safe living in that area.

Sedillo Lopez introduced the bill last year but it failed to pass. She said she hopes it will be heard this year.

“It will really help a lot of survivors,” Sedillo Lopez said.

*HB 25, prefiled by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Cerillos, would enable pregnant workers to request “reasonable accommodations” that do not cause undue hardship on employers. The accommodations could include things such as a stool to sit on or additional water or bathroom breaks.

Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate for Southwest Women’s Law Center, said pregnant workers currently have no legal protections. The bill would apply to employers with four or more employees.

“It’s a gap in protections we have for our workers in New Mexico,” McDaniel said.