Bernalillo County commission chooses Bounkeua to fill vacant legislative seat

With a unanimous vote, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed the first Asian American woman to the New Mexico Legislature. 

Viengkeo Kay Bounkeua, who goes by Kay, was sworn into office Tuesday evening by Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover after commissioners voted 4-0 to appoint Bounkeua to fill the House District 19 seat. The House seat was left vacant after former Democratic Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned amid embezzlement charges. 

Bounkeua is the New Mexico Deputy Director of The Wilderness Society, a national environment advocacy organization, and the former director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. 

In a phone interview with NM Political Report just after her appointment, Bounkeua said she had a mix of emotions. 

“I feel a bit overwhelmed, I feel a bit scared, I feel so content and peaceful,” she said. “And also, I feel that I have the love and guidance of so many people who do this work and do it well, and of all the ancestors that carried us to this moment. I feel that power and I’m so grateful for it.”

Bounkeua was nominated by County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, who said she had seen Bounkeua’s qualifications first hand. 

“I’ve seen her be gentle enough to work with the care needed to serve people in domestic violence situations, and the strength and power to fight for the visibility and the rights of refugee and immigrant families,” Barboa said. 

Bounkeua’s parents were refugees of the Vietnam War and moved to Albuquerque’s International District in 1974. In her application to commissioners, Bounkeua wrote that her family experienced discrimination after her parents became naturalized citizens in 1986 and saved enough money to buy a house in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. 

“As we were planning for our future, the neighborhood was petitioning to ban us from buying a home, saying people who looked like us would drive down property values and bring in crime,” Bounkeua wrote. 

After the vote, Bounkeua told commissioners that her appointment is an “opportunity to kick open doors so we’ll never again be the only or the first.”

She told NM Political Report that she plans to carve out a path for others as well. 

“It’s not going to end with me,” Bounkeua said.”It’s about who we can bring with us, who will come after us, how we set the stage for the next generation of leaders who come through, that’s what this is all about.”

Bounkeua said her immediate legislative focuses will be redistricting and education reform. 

“I’m still focused, and will be focused, on redistricting.

Social justice advocate Pamelya Herndon appointed new HD 28 representative

The Bernalillo County Commission appointed social justice advocate and lawyer Pamelya Herndon to the state House to replace U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, on Tuesday. The Bernalillo County Commissioners voted 4 to 0 in favor of Herndon with one, Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, absent. Herndon vied for the job against seven other candidates but one, William Boughan-Trammell, ended his campaign for the seat before the commission meeting began. Herndon, who is a lawyer trained in tax law and has experience in both government and the nonprofit sector, touted her professional background and years of service for various social justice causes. She said she has worked for gender pay equity, helped individuals enroll in the New Mexico Health Exchange and to take the U.S. Census.

2021 legislative session historic for LGBTQ causes

With six openly queer legislators participating in the 2021 New Mexico legislative session, many in the LGBTQ community said this past session was important in the advancement of equal rights. But also, legislation that would repeal the state’s ban on abortion, remove qualified immunity as a legal defense and enable individuals whose civil rights have been violated to seek financial remedy through the courts and require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees are major highlights for the LGBTQ community as well as the reproductive justice community because the two intersect. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which made the changes on qualified immunity, and the Healthy Workplaces Act, which imposes the paid sick leave requirement, passed both chambers but await Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Lujan Grisham has already signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, on abortion, into law after it passed both chambers in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

But there were other moments, such as an informal “gay pride night” in the state Senate, when two bills sponsored by openly queer Senators passed in mid-March, that were noted by members of the LGBTQ community.

The 2021 Legislature called ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ by reproductive justice advocates

With the passage of legislation to repeal the state’s outdated abortion ban and the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, many in the reproductive justice community called the 2021 Legislative session “extraordinary.”

All reproductive rights groups NM Political Report spoke with cited the passage of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, or SB 10, as one of the biggest victories and a major piece of legislation to come out of the 2021 session. Legislators fast tracked the bill through committee hearings and it passed both chambers before the session’s end. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

The bill repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion and made it a fourth-degree felony for a medical practitioner to perform one. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called the 2021 Legislative session “historic.”

Rushforth said it was in contrast to other states, where in the first few months of 2021, state legislatures have introduced close to 400 pieces of anti-abortion legislation.

Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

Called historic, New Mexico decriminalized abortion on Friday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act into law, after years of efforts by abortion rights supporters. SB 10 repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion by banning it with very few exceptions. 

Lujan Grisham said “a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.”

“Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “New Mexico is not in that business – not any more. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality.

Bill to establish Health Care Affordability Fund expected during legislative session

A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.

Legislators will again try to repeal antiquated abortion ban

With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins

Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.

Reaction to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett

U.S. Senate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Thursday to move the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court to the full Senate. Democrats on the committee boycotted the vote and left posters of people who might be affected by the loss of the Affordable Care Act in their seats. One of the first cases Barrett will likely hear as a newly sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice will be a challenge to the ACA. Related: New SCOTUS conservative bloc could overturn ACA, with big impacts on NM

The Senate will vote on Barrett’s confirmation Monday. Senate Republicans need only a slim majority to confirm her.

Reproductive health care poll finds support among Native Americans in state

A poll taken earlier this year showed that 81 percent of Native Americans around the state believe that women deserve to make their own decisions about reproductive health care without government interference. Two nonprofit organizations, Southwest Women’s Law Center and Forward Together, commissioned the poll last spring and the poll results will be released later this fall. Latino Decisions conducted the poll. New Mexico Political Report obtained an unreleased poll summary. Both Forward Together and Southwest Women’s Law Center said giving Native Americans the opportunity to voice their opinions on reproductive health care is important because some state legislators say that Indigenous people are against abortion.

Insurance handout is coming, say backers of health fund bill that stalled

New Mexico legislators are giving a handout to insurance companies, say backers of a bill designed to create a fund for the uninsured. 

The bill passed the House floor 41 to 25 earlier this week but failed to make it to the Senate Finance Committee agenda by Wednesday evening. It has to go through that committee before reaching the Senate floor. The legislative session ends at noon on Thursday. Adriann Barboa, spokesperson for a coalition of nonprofits serving the vulnerable called New Mexico Together for Health Care, called  HB 278 a “one-time opportunity” for New Mexicans to get nearly everyone in the state insured. The federal government made a change to give a tax rebate to insurance companies this year.