New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, and it is not coming back this year. A legislative committee on Saturday quashed a bill that would have reinstated capital punishment for the murders of children, police officers and correctional officers. The 3-2 party-line vote was no surprise, but it brought out some of the most visceral testimony yet of this year’s 30-day legislative session. The recently discovered death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia of Santa Fe County and stories of his tortured life loomed over the discussion. But so, too, did the story of a former lawmaker’s son who was wrongly accused of murder and locked in jail until his exoneration.
The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.
One state legislator acted quickly after news that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly authored a draft memo calling to mobilize National Guard troops in several states, including New Mexico, to apprehend those in the country illegally. State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, introduced legislation that would keep New Mexico National Guard troops from conducting immigration operations. Related: Reported plan to use National Guard to apprehend immigrants included NM
“In New Mexico, we will not order our dedicated National Guard members, many of whom would be asked to deport their neighbors and possibly relatives, to participate in ripping families apart and terrorizing our immigrant communities,” McCamley said in a statement. “I hope and trust that our governor would support this legislation that protects New Mexicans from the divisive and hateful policies of the current presidential administration.”
Related: Bill would stop NM National Guard from aiding in ICE immigration actions
The Catholic Church in the state denounced the idea of using National Guard troops to apprehend those in the country without documents. From the AP: Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Friday the Roman Catholic Church in the nation’s most Hispanic state would strongly oppose any effort to use National Guard troops to find and deport immigrants.
An announcement from Pope Francis declaring that all Catholic priests can continue to forgive women who have had abortions seems to be more symbolic and less canonical—at least in the United States. In an apostolic letter, or a formal decree, this week, Francis called on Catholic priests to continue forgiving women who have abortions after the Year of Mercy ended. “There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father,” Francis wrote. In New Mexico, a state with a heavily Catholic population, some welcomed the developments. But Catholics and other religious people who support abortion rights said the Church should further reform its stance on abortion rights.
Doña Ana County commissioners want the state legislature to institute a two-tier driver’s license system in the upcoming legislative session to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. The issue, when has been a perennial issue since Gov. Susana Martinez was elected, has renewed attention after the state failed to receive a waiver from the federal government over compliance to the REAL ID Act. This means that New Mexico driver’s licenses will not be accepted to enter federal facilities on January 10. The federal government says that in the spring, New Mexico driver’s licenses will not be proper identification to board commercial flights. It is now one of the top issues that will face the Legislature in the upcoming legislative session that begins on January 19.
A Democratic state senator is urging the state Human Services Department to change its proposed work rules for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. In a letter to HSD Secretary Brent Earnest, state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, urges the state to change course on toughening requirements to qualify for SNAP, better known as food stamps. Earlier this month, HSD proposed to add a requirement of 80 hours of community service for SNAP recipients without jobs and aged 16-60 with children older than 6 years old. HSD has said that the proposed changes would put SNAP work requirements in New Mexico back to what they were before the recession. But the proposals have sparked plenty of backlash from community groups, including the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It was announced last month that Pope Francis appointed Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. KRQE reported Michael Sheehan, the current Archbishop, said that Wester would be a good fit for New Mexico. Archbishop Sheehan said Wester was his top pick and said Wester reflects the same spirit and values of Pope Francis. “I think Bishop Wester is a very balanced man. He avoids the extremes of ultra conservative, ultra liberal.
Two bills seeking limits on abortion are poised for debate in New Mexico’s House of Representatives. A look back at weeks of charged discussions on the issue indicates that under a superficial veneer of two opposing “sides” lies a spectrum of experiences and beliefs, all of which could all play into the ultimate fate of the proposals. Anti-abortion legislation has been proposed session after session in Santa Fe since the passage of Roe v. Wade, but this year, the momentum feels markedly different. After a new Republican majority took the helm in the House for the first time since the 1950s, anti-abortion activists vowed to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire. Conservative legislators have expressed confidence they can squeeze votes they need from the Democratic-controlled Senate to send abortion restrictions to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for her signature.
Allen Sánchez said lobbyists for other special interests often react with amazement after he stands up to speak in the Roundhouse. “One of them just told me, ‘You just got that legislator really mad!’ And I said, ‘Don’t worry. Before the day is out, he’ll call me to see if I’ll support his bill.'”
As the executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sánchez isn’t like other lobbyists who swarm the Roundhouse every session. For more than 400 years, emissaries of the Catholic Church have exerted influence over New Mexico’s history, culture and politics.
For Sara and Josue Maldonado, the question of whether abortion access should be curtailed in New Mexico boils down to starkly defined principles: Human life begins at conception and should be protected without exceptions. “When I had my baby in September, I’d hold her in my arms and think, ‘She’s a person,’” said Sara, who adds she used to call herself pro-choice. “In my opinion, it’s not just a woman’s body. It’s also the body of the living being who’s inside her.”
Josue chimed in, saying that he believes public funding for Planned Parenthood should be cut and that contraception is harmful to women’s health. (Medical research indicates that hormonal birth control health risks are complex; it may increase risk of breast cancer for some women while also lowering risk for other cancers and health conditions.)
The Maldonados were among an estimated 200 people assembled yesterday in the Roundhouse rotunda as Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, presided over a lineup of speakers.