ECECD Home Visiting Manager and Monitor Josephine Salas at an ECECD baby shower at Explora on May 26, 2023.

ECECD hosts baby showers to let parents know about resources

Friday afternoon, a line of people formed outside a room in the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque. 

The line was made up of expectant parents, some with children, who came to a baby shower put on by the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department to bring attention to the home visiting program. Participants who had signed up for the baby shower received a diaper bag with diapers, clothes, grooming kits and more. The baby shower was one of four being done across the state this spring and summer. “(Home visiting) is open for any family and it’s available prenatal to age five,” ECECD Division Director for Family Support and Early Intervention Mayra Gutierrez said. “I want to share that this program is open to anybody.

NMED secretary: PFAS drinking water standards are a start, but not a silver bullet for addressing the contamination

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney compared the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed drinking water standards for PFAS to chapter one in a novel. The public comment period for the EPA’s proposed maximum contaminant level for PFAS in drinking water closes on May 30, although there have been calls for the EPA to extend the comment period. Kenney said the EPA released a PFAS strategic roadmap in 2021, which he compared to the table of contents in a book. “The first chapter they’re writing is the drinking water MCL,” he said. At the same time, Kenney expressed surprise about how complex the MCL rulemaking has become.

ECECD will soon see a nearly 68 percent increase in funding

On July 1, a constitutional amendment to increase the distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund t toward educating the state’s youngest children goes into effect. The amendment, approved by voters last fall, would draw an additional 1.25 percent from the fund. Along with money from the state’s general fund, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department will receive $327.6 million for Fiscal Year 2024, a nearly 68 percent increase in funding over Fiscal Year 2023. The department will receive another $120 million from the early childhood trust fund to increase childcare assistance, tribal early childhood services and workforce supports, according to a report compiled by ECECD and the interim Legislative Finance Committee. ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky gave a presentation before the interim Legislative Finance Committee this week to update the committee on her department’s spending and programs.

With the increased funding for FY24, the home visiting program will grow to $28.3 million.

CYFD logo

CYFD: Repeat maltreatment in decline, but higher than average

New Mexico has 360 more repeat child maltreatment cases annually than the national average. The interim Legislative Finance Committee heard a presentation by New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department Acting Secretary Teresa Casados on the child protective services division within CYFD on Tuesday. The LFC and CYFD provided a report on repeat child maltreatment. New Mexico is higher than the national average. Casados said one goal of the department is to change that.

Efforts are underway to protect snakes, frogs in the Gila area

When the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy sets up booths and tables to educate people about their work, a noticeable trend appears: the children are excited to hold the snakes but the adults are concerned or afraid. “People aren’t born with a fear of snakes, typically,” ARC Conservation Program Coordinator José Garrido said in an interview with NM Political Report. He said trying to get a 30-year-old to hold a snake is ten times harder than convincing a child to hold one. ARC spokesperson Stephanie Haan-Amato said this fear of reptiles or amphibians can have real-world consequences for species. She said research looking at the Endangered Species Act shows that a smaller percentage of imperiled reptiles and amphibians are listed compared to other types of vertebrate animals.

Sen. Martin Heinrich speaks to Rio Rancho Elementary students during an assembly celebrating the school being listed as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022.

Heinrich touts universal school meals and outdoor learning at school visits

On Friday, Rio Rancho Elementary faculty and students celebrated the school’s recent listing as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022. It was the only elementary school on the list. Rio Rancho Elementary was recognized for its inclusivity measures pertaining to school sports that includes all learners including those with intellectual disabilities. One of the people at Rio Rancho Elementary to celebrate the day was Sen. Martin Heinrich. “I’m here today because what you’re doing is super cool,” Heinrich told a group of Rio Rancho Elementary students.

Indigenous Women Rising expands services to help empower Native people

Indigenous Women Rising, a grassroots group known for its abortion fund for Indigenous people, is expanding its services. IWR has long provided support to Native individuals who are birthing through a midwifery program alongside its abortion fund. But the organization’s new Emergence Fund will enable the group to expand its reach to Native birthing families across the country, Justin Lorenzo  (Laguna Pueblo), midwifery fund director, said. 

That will make IWR’s birthing program operate more in tandem with its abortion fund, which has offered support to Native individuals seeking abortion across the U.S. for some time. 

Lorenzo said the Emergence Fund will cover midwifery care and doula care and will also help with other needed resources, such as diapers, breastfeeding and other birthing supplies. Department of Health spokesman David Morgan told NM Political Report via email that Medicaid pays for midwifery care and is “working on implementing a doula coverage benefit.”

“But, that is not in place, yet,” Morgan said. But, Lorenzo said that while the state’s Medicaid program covers midwifery, not all clinics in the state accept Medicaid.

Federal appeals court hears oral argument on mifepristone case

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument on Wednesday about the abortion drug mifepristone.  

The case against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, brought by a conservative group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, was first heard in Texas by Amarillo-based District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk earlier this spring. Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of doctors who say they have had to treat women in emergency room settings when a medication abortion has led to complications. The doctors say they have conscientious objections to caring for abortion patients. The group, who have been accused of “judge shopping” since they have no known relationship to Amarillo but filed suit there, claim the FDA’s approval process of mifepristone in 2000 was rushed to market too soon and that the FDA did so by calling pregnancy “an illness.” They want to see the drug removed from the market and restudied. The U.S. Department of Justice, which argued the case on Wednesday, said the plaintiffs lack standing and that the case is time barred because the approval process took place 23 years ago.

Luján proposes legislation to make Hatch Act violation decisions more transparent

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a bill that would require Congress to be notified of alleged Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act regulates partisan political activities for most federal executive branch employees and some state and local employees. “The Hatch Act was signed into law to prevent public officials from using their position for political gain while protecting federal employees from political influence,” Luján said in a news release. “However, when potential violations do occur, the Office of Special Counsel has failed to investigate and prosecute some of the most serious claims, undermining the American people and the rule of law.”

Luján’s bill, which has not been assigned a number yet, would require the OSC to report to Congress in the event it declines to investigate an alleged Hatch Act violation and to provide an annual report to the Chair and Ranking Members Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The proposed public report would include the number of allegations received by the Special Counsel in the previous year and the number of allegations that resulted in an investigation, with separate data sets for political appointees and career federal workers.

Northwest New Mexico could provide needed insight into finding orphaned oil and gas wells

A largely abandoned oil and gas field in northwest New Mexico could help a team of researchers develop ways to identify and characterize orphaned wells. A team from Los Alamos National Laboratory that is involved in the multi-lab initiative visited the Horseshoe Gallup field west of Farmington last week. There are more than two dozen wells identified in that field as eligible for federal funding intended to help plug orphaned wells. Don Schreiber, a San Juan Basin activist who is part of an effort to get the Horseshoe Gallup field cleaned up, guided the team along with Earthworks thermographers. “This well and many others here are still listed as active, but they may have produced 10 barrels in the last 10 years,” he told the LANL crew.