February 2, 2023

A bill to fill service gaps in sexual assault programming passes first committee

A bill that will help fill gaps created by reduced federal funding for sexual assault services in New Mexico passed the House Health and Human Services Committee with no opposition on Wednesday.

HB 133, Recruit Sexual Assault Service Providers, will, if enacted, provide $2 million from the general fund for Fiscal Year 2024 to New Mexico to recruit and retain sexual assault service providers in New Mexico. The New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission would receive the funding.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor of the bill but Rep. Liz Thomson, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, presented the bill before the committee on Trujillo’s behalf.

“This is a very simple bill,” Thomson said.

Alexandria Taylor, executive director of New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, told the committee that the reason for the bill is that funding from the federal Victims of Crime Act has been decreasing. The coalition, which represents 15 sexual assault programs across the state, is seeking additional funding from the state general fund to meet the service gap created by the reduction in federal funding.

During the 2022 Legislative Session, the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs asked the Legislature for $5 million in additional funding to close that gap and improve services, particularly for rural individuals who often have to drive for hours to reach a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and face several months of waiting to seek counseling due to the paucity of services. The Legislature provided $2.7 million in additional funding, despite the state being flush with additional COVID-19 pandemic federal relief dollars and oil and gas revenue last year.

“This meets the service gap we identified last year,” Taylor told the committee.

Rep. Jenifer Jones, a Republican from Deming, asked why the federal VOCA funds have been decreasing.

“Have we reached out to our federal delegation to ask why?” Jones asked.

Taylor said the coalition is in “constant communication with our federal delegation.”

“Until more fines and fees go into that fund, those federal funds may not be recovered,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that for this fiscal year, there is a 20 percent reduction in VOCA funding. 

Between 2016 and 2020, the Trump Administration rerouted money for the fund while also slowing down enforcement of white collar crimes at the federal level. The fees and fines from the prosecution of white collar crimes are what supply the money for the VOCA fund, which is designed to aid victims of assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse, homicide and other violent crimes.

President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021 the “VOCA fix,” a bill which expected to stabilize VOCA funding in the long term. But the funding will not be restored quickly, according to advocates. 

“From 2016 to 2020, fees going into the fund dramatically, significantly, decreased,” Taylor told the committee.

New Mexico ranks in the top 10 of states for sexual violence, Taylor said.

The bill will head next to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.