Bill to help victims of human trafficking clears committee, but future uncertain

A bill to help victims of human trafficking passed unanimously in the House Health and Human Services Committee Monday, but the bill will die this session if the Senate doesn’t add it to the budget according to advocates. HB 101, would provide  $350,000 for emergency services for victims of human trafficking. Susan Loubet, executive director for New Mexico Women’s Agenda, said the money would be used to help the victims get away from the trafficker by providing them with clothes, food and housing. Mary Ellen Garcia, with Crime Victims Reparation Commission, said the state, and the nation, is seeing rising numbers of human trafficking, creating victims of all ages. Garcia said that some believe there are 5,000 vulnerable kids in Albuquerque alone and half to two-thirds of them are already being trafficked for sex or labor.

Bill to help trafficked minors clears Senate Judiciary Committee

A bill that advocates say could aid children in getting away from human traffickers passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday. SB 66 would appropriate $250,000 from the general fund to the Crime Victims Reparation Commission. The commission would then make money available to social service agencies which advocates say are often on the front lines of trying to help youth who have been trafficked. According to the bill’s fiscal impact report, there are 5,000 kids who are homeless in Bernalillo County alone. A large number of that 5,000 are believed to be trafficked victims.

Lynn Sanchez, a victims’ advocate who spoke as the expert for the bill, told NM Political Report that the money can help stabilize the kids.

Feds find grant money misused on medical pot

A state agency that helps compensate victims of crimes was called out by the U.S. Department of Justice for using federal grant money to reimburse victims for medical cannabis purchases. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General released its audit  of the New Mexico’s Crime Victims Reparation Commission this week, and criticized the agency.  Cannabis, the federal agency said, is still illegal on a federal level. “While medical marijuana is legal in the State of New Mexico, federal law does not recognize or protect the possession or use of medical marijuana,” the audit read. “As a result, medical marijuana is an unallowable expenditure and cannot be paid for with federal grant funds.”

The Office of the Inspector General recommended the state commission change its procedures to make sure federal money does not pay for cannabis.

Bill would authorize panel to investigate child abuse deaths

State Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat who was raised in foster care and has largely focused his legislative efforts on reforming New Mexico’s child welfare system, has introduced a measure to create a task force on child homicides. The proposal also would give the state attorney general authority to order an independent investigation into a child abuse death. The team would include medical experts, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child welfare workers, tribal members and others. It would be tasked with evaluating investigations of a child’s death, as well as examining how agencies and individuals responded to concerns about the child before the slaying. The task force also would make recommendations to the Legislature on needed reforms.

Senate Bill 294 comes as New Mexico experiences a steep rise in child abuse cases.