State agencies still open, public encouraged to access them online or by phone

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of public health emergency Wednesday in the light of three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state. By the end of the day, her office announced a fourth case. Lujan Grisham’s message to the public was to avoid unnecessary human to human contact, consider not traveling outside of the state and work from home if possible. But that can be difficult for state employees whose jobs require them to work directly with the public. 

Lujan Grisham also announced that non-essential state employees would be allowed to work from home. A spokesman told NM Political Report Thursday morning that the governor’s intention was “to keep as many people working at home as possible.”

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said Lujan Grisham was not referring to non-essential employees in a technical sense, but instead calling on cabinet secretaries to encourage employees to “telework” if they can. 

“It’s every secretary’s obligation to find a way to execute that,” Stelnicki said. 

But that’s not to say public-facing employees will stop working.

Bill that helps kids who ‘age out’ of foster care passes Senate

A bill to provide support to children who have “aged out” of foster care but still need a safety net passed unanimously in the Senate chamber Monday. SB 168 would allow children who are 18 to 21 who lack resources necessary to enter adulthood to access aid from the Child, Youth and Family Services Department. CYFD would be able to leverage federal dollars to pay for the services. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill. Padilla said while on the Senate floor that the bill aligns New Mexico with federal law and federal requirements for funding already available.

Bill to lengthen statute of limitations on child sexual abuse passes House

A bill that would extend the statute of limitations on taking civil action for child sexual abuse passed the House floor with broad bipartisan support Friday. HB 302 passed 61 to 4. Currently, a victim of childhood sexual abuse must bring a claim to civil court before the victim’s 24th birthday or within three years of disclosing the abuse to a health provider. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, said that this bill would open that up. The bill would not change the 24th birthday limitation but would expand the three-year period when a victim first becomes aware of the abuse and understands that they were harmed by it.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

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.

False alarms: When schools abuse CYFD hotline, families suffer

Carrizozo is a windswept town just north of the Sacramento Mountains, a tiny place of 936 souls, where everybody knows everybody else. So when a state investigator showed up at Christy Cartwright’s doorstep in January, the mother of five was horrified to learn that an employee of Carrizozo Municipal Schools had reported her for child abuse. Her kids had attended the district’s three schools for the past 15 years. Despite a spate of run-ins with the high school principal and special education staff, Cartwright called Carrizozo home. How, she wondered, could anyone there believe she was capable of hurting her children?

After failed indictments on sexual assault charges, father tries to rebuild family, career

In the late afternoon of August 30, 2017, Jessica Lowther was on the phone with her husband, Adam. Recently back from a routine business trip, Adam called to say he was headed home from work and would take their two young children to their taekwondo lessons. During that call, Jessica answered a knock on her front door. A handful of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers and at least one investigator from the Children Youth and Families Department stood at her door. A female officer said they needed to do a welfare check on the two Lowther children.

Creative thinking brings child care center to Jal

A visitor heading down NM-128 to Jal would be forgiven for believing there were more people driving pickups and equipment trucks on the congested state highway than living in the small oil patch town of just over 2,100 people. Jal is an old ranching community — JAL was the brand of the John A. Lynch herd, brought to the area by settlers in the early 1800s — but today, oil is its economic engine. And that engine is humming. New Mexico’s most recent oil and gas boom has filled Heaven in a Cup, a retro burgers-and-shake shack off Main Street, with hungry oil field workers. Encampments of RVs and campers have sprung up around town and the economic resurgence has helped refuel the tiny town that sits just across the border from Texas.

Pilot project gives stable housing, but its end brings devastating displacement for some families

Room No. 30 in the Tewa Motor Lodge was the only home 3-year-old C.J. Preece had ever known. The $30-a-night motel, on a seedy stretch of Albuquerque’s east Central Avenue, was what her parents could afford. The Preeces were struggling with drug and alcohol abuse when, in 2015, a caseworker from the Children, Youth and Families Department knocked on their door to investigate an allegation of neglect. “I was really mad,” recalls her mother, Carlotta Preece.

Investigation reveals serious abuses within treatment foster care system

The 11-year-old boy’s explanation didn’t make sense. He had shown up Sept. 25, 2017, at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington –  purple bruises covering his body, ligature marks on his neck, a patch of hair ripped from his head and black eyes so badly swollen he couldn’t latch his glasses behind his ears. Doctors feared he had a skull fracture. He insisted he’d tripped in his front yard while practicing soccer.

Juvenile sentencing proposal faces uphill climb in Legislature

At age 15, Nehemiah Griego used rifles to kill his parents and three siblings in the family’s Albuquerque home. Griego’s rampage, which took the lives of his 9-year-old brother and sisters aged 5 and 2, shocked the conscience of New Mexico, said state Sen. Greg Baca. A judge decided that Griego would be prosecuted as a juvenile who was capable of being rehabilitated. Griego was committed to the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department. He is scheduled to be released next month when he turns 21.