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.
Three bills passed the state Senate Sunday night that will, if they become law, advance equity for the LGBTQ community and people of color. SB 213, called the panic defense bill, passed by a vote of 41 to 0 with no debate. Sponsored by state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the bill would prevent someone who commits a violent crime from using the victim’s sexual orientation, gender expression or identity as a legal defense in court. State Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos, who is a co-sponsor on the bill, said she knew a man in the 1980s who was violently murdered because of his sexual orientation. The man who perpetrated the crime used the panic defense, Stefanics said.
Two years after a group of conservative Democrats, along with Republicans voted against decriminalizing abortion care, the state Senate passed SB 10 Thursday, 25 to 17. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is called the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act and has a mirror bill, HB 7, sponsored by Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla. The two bills remove three sections from the criminal code which, in 1969, banned abortion with some limited exceptions. The law has repeatedly been called archaic and advocates for its repeal said it included language contrary to how medicine is currently practiced. While the law is currently unenforceable, reproductive rights advocates have said that given the conservative bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be gutted in the next few years.
The state Senate’s Tax, Business and Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed a two-pronged proposal Tuesday designed to provide businesses with economic relief and also stimulate job growth, part of an ongoing effort to help New Mexicans struggling with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, expands the Local Economic Development Act in two ways. “The first one provides [$200 million in] immediate economic assistance in the way of grants for thousands of small and midsize businesses to use for mortgage, rent or lease abatement so that they can rehire workers or new employees,” Alicia J. Keyes, Cabinet secretary of the Economic Development Department, told lawmakers. In recent discussions with business owners, Keyes said their No. 1 concern is the debt they’ve incurred on their rents.
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.
New Mexico voters embraced candidates in the 2020 elections that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office. The state saw a slew of “firsts” this year.
For the first time in the state’s history, New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held by women of color. And both Yvette Herrell, who will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and Deb Haaland, who won reelection to the state’s 1st Congressional District, are enrolled members of Indigenous nations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation, making New Mexico the first state in the U.S. to have two Indigenous Representatives.
Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, is Latina.
Terrelene Massey, Diné (Navajo) and the executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said she’s really excited to see more representation from women, especially women of color and Native American women. “I think they’ll provide different perspectives on the different issues they’ll be working on,” Massey said.
Reproductive rights advocates picked up six more votes in the state Senate. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Action Fund, called it “a really good night for abortion access in New Mexico.”
Democrats picked up three seats in the state Senate, according to unofficial results. Those seats are state SD 10, which Democrat Katy Duhigg won over Republican Candace Gould. State SD 20, which Democrat Martin Hickey took, defeating the Republican candidate and taking a seat formerly held by Republican William Payne. The Democrats also won state SD 23, with Democrat Harold Pope Jr., who took the seat when he defeated Republican incumbent Sander Rue.
The state Senate has shifted to the left and progressive Democrats picked up one state Senate seat Tuesday night, according to unofficial results, and will likely pick up two more. All results cited are as of midnight on Wednesday. All results reported election night are unofficial until the Secretary of State announces the official results later this month. Progressive Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill beat Republican James Williams in state SD 28, which encompasses Grant, Catron and Socorro counties. Correa Hemphill led most of the night and won with 51 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.
A court case that could affect anti-discrimination laws in New Mexico will soon be before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia, will be heard by the Supreme Court next month. The case involves a Catholic-based organization that sued the city of Philadelphia because the city refused to allow the organization to continue a contract to house youth in foster care because the organization discriminates against same-sex couples. Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said that if the case is decided by a conservative majority on the court, then a contractor who receives tax payer funding to provide, for instance, homeless shelter services or foodbank services through a government contract could refuse to house or provide food to queer or transgender people. Martinez said that if the court rules against the city of Philadelphia broadly and bases its opinion on a religious argument, then the case could be interpreted to allow one faith-based organization to discriminate against people of other faiths and deny services to people of other faiths.
While reproductive rights activists worry about the future of abortion rights in the state, some candidates say voters are particularly focused on the issue. With the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18 and President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, reproductive rights advocates’ efforts to repeal New Mexico’s 1969 law is now of even greater urgency for many. If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Mexico’s 1969 law, which criminalizes abortion, would again go into effect. Siah Correa Hemphill, a Democrat running for State Senate District 28 in southern New Mexico, said she has received several phone calls and emails from constituents in her district in recent weeks asking about her position on abortion rights. “I know it’s on the mind of many people.