U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell compares abortion to eugenics

In a tweet earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell equated abortion with eugenics. Herrell’s tweet on Monday was a response to a clip from an NBC broadcaster who was commenting that the state of Texas is “running over” women’s constitutional rights to obtain an abortion since that state’s six-week gestational ban went into effect at the beginning of September. “Of course, @JoeNBC is completely wrong. Abortion is not “enumerated” in the Constitution, specifically or otherwise, & its invention as a right in Roe v. Wade rests on garbage legal reasoning. America will be a better place when abortion joins eugenics on the ash heap of history,” she wrote in her tweet.

Bernalillo County commission chooses Bounkeua to fill vacant legislative seat

With a unanimous vote, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed the first Asian American woman to the New Mexico Legislature. 

Viengkeo Kay Bounkeua, who goes by Kay, was sworn into office Tuesday evening by Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover after commissioners voted 4-0 to appoint Bounkeua to fill the House District 19 seat. The House seat was left vacant after former Democratic Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned amid embezzlement charges. 

Bounkeua is the New Mexico Deputy Director of The Wilderness Society, a national environment advocacy organization, and the former director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. 

In a phone interview with NM Political Report just after her appointment, Bounkeua said she had a mix of emotions. 

“I feel a bit overwhelmed, I feel a bit scared, I feel so content and peaceful,” she said. “And also, I feel that I have the love and guidance of so many people who do this work and do it well, and of all the ancestors that carried us to this moment. I feel that power and I’m so grateful for it.”

Bounkeua was nominated by County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, who said she had seen Bounkeua’s qualifications first hand. 

“I’ve seen her be gentle enough to work with the care needed to serve people in domestic violence situations, and the strength and power to fight for the visibility and the rights of refugee and immigrant families,” Barboa said. 

Bounkeua’s parents were refugees of the Vietnam War and moved to Albuquerque’s International District in 1974. In her application to commissioners, Bounkeua wrote that her family experienced discrimination after her parents became naturalized citizens in 1986 and saved enough money to buy a house in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. 

“As we were planning for our future, the neighborhood was petitioning to ban us from buying a home, saying people who looked like us would drive down property values and bring in crime,” Bounkeua wrote. 

After the vote, Bounkeua told commissioners that her appointment is an “opportunity to kick open doors so we’ll never again be the only or the first.”

She told NM Political Report that she plans to carve out a path for others as well. 

“It’s not going to end with me,” Bounkeua said.”It’s about who we can bring with us, who will come after us, how we set the stage for the next generation of leaders who come through, that’s what this is all about.”

Bounkeua said her immediate legislative focuses will be redistricting and education reform. 

“I’m still focused, and will be focused, on redistricting.

A bill to amend the state’s Human Rights Act clears committee hearing Saturday

A bill that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to make clear that public bodies and state agencies are subject to its provisions passed unanimously in committee hearing Saturday. HB 192 is sponsored by House Rep. Brittany Barreras, an independent from Albuquerque who caucuses with the Democrats. Called the Extend Human Rights Act to Public Bodies, the bill passed the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs unanimously. Barreras and co-sponsor Rep. Angelica Rubio D-Las Cruces, amended the bill to modernize the language and change “handicapped” to  “disabled”  and clarified that public agencies would not have to change programmatic focus under the bill. Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said this bill, if made law, would bring greater clarity to the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

Legislature passes COVID relief bill during quick special session

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law

The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.

New Mexico’s 1969 abortion law was one in a long line of laws restricting access

When the New Mexico Legislature passed the 1969 law on abortion, it was the least restrictive version of the state’s previous abortion laws, but one advocates say would be too restrictive if it goes back into effect. Since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, and President Trump’s nominee of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, there is a heightened concern that Roe v. Wade could be overturned in the immediate future. If that happens before the state’s 1969 abortion law is repealed, the state could turn back the clock to the 51-year-old law. An attempt to repeal the 1969 law failed in the state Senate in 2019. Related: Senate rejects repealing currently unenforceable anti-abortion law

If it were to become the state’s law, enforcement would be a matter for each individual district attorney’s office, said Matt Baca, chief counsel for the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas.

School budget cuts could be worse than thought, advocates say

Just as the New Mexico Legislature passes a new budget that will cut 0.6 percent out of the school budget for the next fiscal year, a newly released report shows that New Mexico is, again, at the bottom for child well being. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropic organization focused on children, released its annual report this week on child well being and ranked New Mexico as 50th in the nation. James Jimenez, executive director for the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, said New Mexico has ranked near the bottom for “a very long time,” but came to the lowest ranking in 2013 and has been there “for a few years.”

“It’s a reflection of the fact that despite what people say, that kids are our most precious asset, it’s not true in the way we invest our money in state and local government,” Jimenez said. Last week the state passed a revised state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that will cut 0.6 percent from the school budget despite cries from some school superintendents and advocates that this will be detrimental and will put the state in a position where it cannot live up to the requirements of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, which said the state did not provide adequate education for students. Related: Superintendents: Proposed cuts to education will worsen racial and economic inequity

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the solvency budget, though she can veto by line-item.

Raul Torrez

District attorney: ‘Budgetary technicality’ to blame for unspent funds

Next January marks the beginning of the New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session, which will largely focus on budget issues, including how much money state departments, local governments and courts will get. Given Albuquerque’s high crime rate, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office and its funding will likely be under scrutiny by legislators. A preview of that scrutiny came in the form of a letter in October from the head of the House committee in charge of the budget and the Speaker of the House, to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez. 

The October letter asked Torrez to detail how he spent the more-than-$6-million in appropriations his office received almost two years ago. In a Legislative Finance hearing earlier this week, Torrez told lawmakers a misunderstanding in how to word the request for money resulted in about $1.7 million of a $2 million special appropriation inaccessible to his office. In an almost 50-page report, Torrez told the LFC that it wasn’t until August of this year that his office realized that a “budgetary technicality” regarding recurring funds left most of the special appropriation effectively unusable. 

“We reached out to our analyst and we were specifically told that the language was not necessary,” Torrez told the panel. 

During the 2018 legislative session, Torrez asked the Legislature to appropriate $4.1 million with an additional $2.5 million to help fund a pilot program called the Crime Strategies Unit (CSU) for better tracking and analysis.

‘Everyone is watching New Mexico’: Update shows no progress on PFAS clean up

Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member. 

“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”

Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session. 

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.

Legislators could strip school districts of discretion over medical cannabis in schools

Some state lawmakers are ready to remove school districts’ discretion over how medical cannabis is administered to students who are medical cannabis patients. 

The issue of how and when approved students can get their medicine has been divisive and controversial at times. But this year New Mexico became one of about a dozen states to allow some students to consume cannabis at school. Unlike other states, New Mexico’s law left some decisionmaking up to school districts. That local control has stirred additional controversy and caused some confusion amongst lawmakers. Some of those lawmakers say school districts abused that privilege. 

State law allows districts to come up with their own policies for medical cannabis, including limitations on who administers the medical cannabis.

Gov. Martinez asks high court to dismiss veto case

Attorneys for Gov. Susana Martinez argued to the New Mexico Supreme Court that a legal challenge of her sweeping line-item budget vetoes should be dismissed. At a minimum, her lawyers argued last week, the case should be postponed until an upcoming special legislative session is complete. In response to a motion filed by the Legislative Council last month, Martinez’s lawyer Paul Kennedy argued that the governor did not exceed her power as governor when she vetoed the entire budgets for the Legislature and higher education. Kennedy, who has a high dollar contract with Martinez’s office, challenged the Legislature’s notion that the governor cannot legally veto two entire budgets. Related story: Gov’s office cites complex questions from reporters, busy schedule as defense in lawsuit

“The question presented is whether, during the bill-review period following a regular session of the Legislature, the Governor can veto items pertaining to the Legislature and state educational institutions in a general appropriations bill for the subsequent fiscal year without violating the principle of separation of powers,” Kennedy wrote.