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.

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon approaches the lectern in the state house chamber to deliver the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature Tuesday, January 24, 2022.

Supreme Court Chief Justice talks virtual hearings, criminal justice reform

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon addressed the Legislature during a joint legislative session on Tuesday. This was the first time in four years a State of the Judiciary Address has been delivered in New Mexico. “The Judiciary is battered and bruised, strong, resilient, creative, committed, and caring. I hope through my words today, this will be evident,” Bacon said. Bacon discussed four issues including the judiciary’s efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting programs that help the community, criminal justice reform and the judiciary’s legislative requests.

Budget proposals show record money after oil boom

The Legislative Finance Committee released its budget recommendations last Thursday. These documents are expected to be presented to the state legislature and include a policy and performance analysis, appropriation recommendations and supplemental charts and graphs

The LFC budget recommendations asks the legislature to spend $9.44 billion from the state’s general fund which is a $1.04 billion, or 12 percent, increase of fiscal year 2023 planned spending. Earlier in the week, on Jan. 10, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released her executive budget recommendations. “Today, we have a historic opportunity for change in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.

Legislative Finance Committee releases projected revenue estimate for FY24

On Monday, the NM Legislative Finance Committee released its Consensus Revenue Estimate for fiscal year 2024 which begins July 1, 2023. The projected revenue for FY 2024 is $11.994 billion. Legislators will craft a budget based on these numbers in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January, including how much to include in reserves for any possible future budget shortfall. “The December forecast indicates New Mexico is still in a solid position fiscally,” Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke said. “The strong revenues we’ve seen over the past couple of years allowed us to deliver significant tax relief to New Mexicans and still maintain historically high reserves to protect against unforeseen shocks.”

NMDOH asks for $2 million for funding family planning and women’s reproductive health services

The New Mexico Department of Health will request $2 million for the family planning and women’s reproductive health services from the New Mexico Legislature to replace reductions in federal funds to maintain current family planning services. The $2 million is part of an 11 percent increase DOH is requesting from the Legislature in 2023. According to a news release, DOH is asking for the increase in its Fiscal Year 2024 budget request due to the “massive disruption” the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. The funds will replace reductions in federal funds and will maintain, rather than increase, current family planning services, according to the release. Other DOH budget priorities include $5.8 million additional funding for School-Based Health Centers to expand services to include primary care, behavioral health and suicide prevention for the 25,073 students who attend 70 rural and Tribal community schools.

Federal government extends Real ID requirements again

Those who need to update their driver’s licenses or identification cards before the REAL ID enforcement date have two more years to become compliant. The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, announced on Monday an extension to the REAL ID full enforcement date by two years to May 7, 2025. This means that states have more time to ensure their residents have driver’s licenses and identification cards that meet security standards set forth in the REAL ID Act of 2005. These are the requirements necessary to board airplanes or enter some federal facilities. Once the May 7, 2025 deadline passes, federal agencies including Transportation Security Administration will not accept driver’s licenses and identification cards that are not REAL ID compliant, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security news release states.

State issues public health order in response to a surge of pediatric respiratory cases

The state issued an emergency public health order Thursday in response to a surge of pediatric cases and hospitalizations of respiratory viruses. The New Mexico Department of Health issued the public health emergency order Thursday, urging parents to visit hospital emergency rooms with sick children only if the child shows signs of severe illness, such as significant trouble breathing. New Mexico and a few other states are experiencing some of the highest rates of influenza in the U.S., according to the NMDOH. The DOH said in a news release that the order is necessary as hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their licensed capacity due to the surge in respiratory viruses. The surge is causing an unsustainable strain on health care providers, according to the release.

Rev. Kathy Hudak speaks to a group of asylum seekers as part of the Rio Grande Borderland Ministries. She is presenting a video on the rights the asylum-seekers have.

‘The need is there’: Borderland Ministries helps migrants and asylum seekers

Ana Reza has served as bridge chaplain for the Rio Grande Borderland Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande for about three years. The bridge chaplain moves back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico to greet incoming asylum seekers or immigrants seeking legal entry into the U.S.

“I do want people to know how grateful we are in everything we’ve done so far and we look forward to build new relationships and to continue to build the new relationships we have now,” Reza said. “The need is there.”

Sometimes Reza sees up to 900 people a day coming across the border. “It’s a lot of work. Pray for us that we be able to continue to provide a safe space because if it wasn’t for the shelters, Border Patrol would just drop them off at the airport and we see how that’s going,” Reza said.

Animal shelters continue to be in a crisis in 2022

Albuquerque Animal shelter anticipates 21,500 pets will have come through their two city-run shelters in 2022 by the end of the year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Albuquerque shelters saw 17,000 to 18,000 pets arrive annually. Animal shelters across the country continue to be in a state of crisis. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than usual visited their local shelters in both New Mexico and nationwide. People adopted pets in response to stay-in-place orders, remote working and schooling and, some have said, out of a sense of compassion for the animals when the world seemed upside down.

Amendment to tap the Land Grant Permanent Fund passes by wide margin

Constitutional Amendment 1, which will allow an increase from the Permanent Land Grant Fund distribution by 1.25 percent, won by a large margin. As of 9:45 p.m., the votes in favor were 349,579 to 146,969 opposed. Those in favor carried the vote by 70 percent. Angie Poss, spokesperson for Vote Yes for Kids! Constitutional Amendment 1, a group that has been working to convince voters to vote in favor of the amendment, said by phone that the celebration at Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque, after a decade-long fight, was joyous.