The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will have a new department head in October, according to an announcement on Tuesday from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
According to the announcement, current Secretary Brian Blalock will step down this month “to support his wife’s pursuit of new work opportunities in California.”
Lujan Grisham appointed Blalock, who previously worked in California as a child welfare advocate. In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was grateful to Blalock for his work with CYFD.
“When Brian agreed to take this role, my expectation and hope was that an expert set of eyes from outside of our system would be the right ingredient to help move the ball forward for New Mexico children and families,” she said. “He inherited an agency in disarray, with employees who had been sidelined and discouraged by an administration that did not prioritize or support this essential work. Under his leadership the agency has made progress and implemented productive policies.”
While personal reasons were cited as his reason for stepping down, the announcement comes on the heels of a series of stories from Searchlight New Mexico that highlighted reported shortcomings in the department. In April, it came to light that the department was using an encrypted messaging system for internal communication, which raised questions about transparency.
On August 1, New Mexico will expand early child care assistance to allow a family of four with a nearly $93,000 yearly income eligible for assistance from the state, among other early childcare changes. Some have said the expansions to early childcare could empower women in New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky announced earlier this month that, through funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the state will expand who qualifies for early child care assistance. Micah McCoy, ECECD communications director, told NM Political Report that the income requirement for state assistance for early childcare is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equals about $53,000 a year, he said.
Abortion care providers in New Mexico expect an increase in patients if a court allows Texas’ six-week gestational ban to take effect in September. A group of Texas abortion fund and clinic providers filed suit in a Texas state court last week to stop the state’s new law from going into effect. But because the law is new territory, providers, abortion fund organizations and legal experts in New Mexico are watching to see if the court blocks the law with an injunction and, if not, how large the ripple effect could be felt in this neighboring state. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico called the Texas law not just unconstitutional but “sinister.”
“The point of this [Texas] law is to instill fear and place a bounty on the head of anyone who is providing abortion care or helping people get the care they need. It’s inviting and encouraging complete strangers to stake out and continue to harass abortion providers and networks of care,” she said.
On Thursday most bills that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law earlier this year went into effect but the one that did not yet is the Healthy Workplaces Act. The Healthy Workplaces Act, or paid sick leave, provides all private sector employees up to 64 hours of paid time off each year, regardless of the size of the business where the employee works. Employees will accrue one hour off for every 30 hours worked. Related: Paid sick leave bill heads to Guv’s desk
But, the law doesn’t go into effect until July 1, 2022. Miles Tokunow, an OLÉ community organizer who worked on the original bill, said delaying the start date of the law until next year was a concession made to the business community to give employers time to prepare for it.
On Thursday the state ended COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, but Indigenous leaders with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women urge the public to keep wearing the mask. Angel Charley, Laguna and executive director of CSVANW, said this is a safety precaution. “It requires a lot of sacrifice from all of us as individuals; it’s how we made this much progress,” she said. “But until we reach herd immunity, until there is vaccination access for kids under 12, until there is true equitable access to vaccinations then we’re asserting this is a safety precaution.”
The World Health Organization recommended that vaccinated people continue to wear masks, especially in light of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is more contagious than other variants. Charley said the Navajo Nation is following WHO guidance and is continuing its mask mandate.
For the next two years, New Mexico will raise the income eligibility for childcare assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with a phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, officials announced Thursday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Early Childcare Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and state Sen. Michael Padilla spoke during a press conference Thursday to announce the change. The press conference was also part of a one-year anniversary celebration for ECECD, which is an agency that began under the Lujan Grisham administration to improve early childcare education. The press conference was held in Santa Fe and online. The department will use emergency funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan to increase the assistance starting August 1.
A poll conducted by SurveyUSA for KOB-TV showed that half of New Mexico adults approve of how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing her job. The poll showed that 50 percent of those polled approved of her job performance, while 32 percent disapproved and 18 percent were not sure. Lujan Grisham received the support of 80 percent of Democrats, compared to 9 percent who disapproved. Just 28 percent of Republicans approved of her job performance, compared to 57 percent who disapproved. She also had the support of 47 percent of independents, while 32 percent disapproved.
A group of state prisoners alleged a corrupt medical grievance system violates their constitutional rights and has contributed to a bone epidemic in New Mexico prisons in a lawsuit. The 18 prisoners filed a lawsuit last month in state district court against the state, the New Mexico Corrections Department and members of its leadership including Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero alleging that a corrupt medical grievance system ignores inmates’ health problems, including after they begin to deteriorate and that officers retaliate against the inmates for filing medical grievances and talking to attorneys. Nine of the inmates involved in the suit developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that results from an infection, according to the complaint. Tripp Stelnicki, director of communications for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, referred NM Political Report to Eric Harrison, public information officer for New Mexico Corrections Department. Harrison wrote that the department does not comment on active litigation.
Businesses that were ordered to close during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic do not have a claim for government compensation, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.
The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Shannon Bacon, states that public health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Department of Health did not constitute either a physical or regulatory “taking” of property that would warrant compensation from the state.
“Occupancy limits and closure of certain categories of businesses, while certainly harsh in their economic effects, are directly tied to the reasonable purpose of limiting the public’s exposure to the potentially life-threatening and communicable disease, and thus can be deemed ‘reasonably necessary,”’ Bacon wrote.
Before Lujan Grisham’s office asked the high court to take the case, business owners who sought compensation after emergency public health orders forced them to close their doors to the public filed a number of suits around the state in lower courts. Lujan Grisham’s office asked the state supreme court to decide whether a public health order to close businesses constitutes a regulatory taking.
Another question posed to the court was whether a portion of state law that specifically mentions compensation in public health emergencies applied to all types of businesses or just medical companies. The group of businesses seeking compensation argued that the state Public Health Emergency Response Act’s provision on compensation includes non-medical businesses with the words “any other property.” But the state supreme court seemed to agree with the governor’s office argument that ejusdem generis, or a Latin term meaning of the same kind, applied to the words “any other property,” essentially meaning any other medical or medically related company taken by the state to help fight a public health emergency.
“Because a public health emergency can affect the entire population, anyone and everyone could be a potential claimant under the Real Parties’ interpretation, even under far less restrictive measures than the [public health orders],” Bacon wrote. “It is simply not credible that the Legislature in enacting the PHERA intended for such a potential raid on the public wealth while simultaneously granting broad powers to protect the public health.” Further, the high court also ruled that anyone seeking compensation under PHERA has to first follow the law’s procedure for a claim, which means the claim has to first go through the state Attorney General’s Office.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made it official on Thursday: She is running for a second term in office. At an event in Old Town New Mexico, she announced that she would run for a second term. No New Mexico governor has lost a reelection campaign since 1994 when incumbent Bruce King lost to Gary Johnson. Every governor since then has won a second term. “We’re gonna protect New Mexico and no amount of noise will deter, intimidate or create a vacuum in leadership.