A poll taken this fall shows that New Mexican voters are in favor of a state-supported paid family and medical leave program. A group of Democratic representatives, led by state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos, have sponsored a bill to establish such a program in the last few legislative sessions but the bills failed to make it through. The bill would have established a fund that both employers and employees pay into that could then be tapped for up to 12 weeks in the event of certain exigencies, such as a new child’s arrival. Related: Paid Family and Medical Leave bill clears House Judiciary Committee
The poll found that 77 percent of New Mexico voters support a state-supported paid family and medical leave insurance program. The number of supporters increased to 81 percent when the voters were told that such a plan would cost workers $2 to $6 per week, according to the poll results.
A bill to create paid family and medical leave for all employees in the state is slated to be filed in January. The bill would allow employees to take up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave for a serious medical issue, bringing home a new child or to care for a family member with a serious medical issue. The effort is not new. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, sponsored similar bills in 2019 and 2020 and will be the lead sponsor on the upcoming 2021 bill. HB 16 never went to committee in 2020.
New Mexico voters embraced candidates in the 2020 elections that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office. The state saw a slew of “firsts” this year.
For the first time in the state’s history, New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held by women of color. And both Yvette Herrell, who will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and Deb Haaland, who won reelection to the state’s 1st Congressional District, are enrolled members of Indigenous nations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation, making New Mexico the first state in the U.S. to have two Indigenous Representatives.
Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, is Latina.
Terrelene Massey, Diné (Navajo) and the executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said she’s really excited to see more representation from women, especially women of color and Native American women. “I think they’ll provide different perspectives on the different issues they’ll be working on,” Massey said.
A poll taken earlier this year showed that 81 percent of Native Americans around the state believe that women deserve to make their own decisions about reproductive health care without government interference. Two nonprofit organizations, Southwest Women’s Law Center and Forward Together, commissioned the poll last spring and the poll results will be released later this fall. Latino Decisions conducted the poll. New Mexico Political Report obtained an unreleased poll summary. Both Forward Together and Southwest Women’s Law Center said giving Native Americans the opportunity to voice their opinions on reproductive health care is important because some state legislators say that Indigenous people are against abortion.
The Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act, signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March, went into effect Wednesday. Terrelene Massey, executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said the new law could affect anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 workers in New Mexico each year. The law amends the state’s Human Rights Act to make pregnancy, childbirth and conditions related to either a protected class from employment discrimination. Sponsored by two Democrats, Rep. Gail Chasey, of Albuquerque, and Sen. Liz Stefanics, of Cerrillos, the new law allows pregnant people to ask their employer for “reasonable accommodations,” to enable the pregnant worker to keep working. The “reasonable accommodations” could be things like asking for more bathroom breaks, a stool to sit on, the ability to get time off for prenatal care or having water at a workstation, according to the law’s advocates.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread, some say the crisis emphasizes the need for paid time off for health emergencies in New Mexico. So far, there are no known positive cases of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, in New Mexico, according to state Department of Health spokesman David Morgan. Jodi McGinnis Porter, director of communications for the New Mexico Human Services Department, said that as of the end of Sunday, 57 people in New Mexico tested for the virus and all tests were negative. But the state health department said last week that the agency anticipates positive tests at some point. Every state surrounding New Mexico has had at least one test positive case and there are hundreds of confirmed cases nationwide.
The financial toll of the growing spread of the coronavirus is still not clear, but the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points Monday and the price of oil dropped to $30.24 a barrel according to MarketWatch.com.
Hed: Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’
Many reproductive justice advocates said their biggest disappointment of the 2020 legislative session is that the 1969 New Mexico law banning abortion is still on the books. But some in the Respect NM Women Coalition, a group of reproductive justice advocates and organizations, say ‘next year.’
“We’re looking forward to repealing the state’s archaic 1969 abortion ban in 2021,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The nonprofit she leads is part of the coalition. While the law is still on the books, it is not currently enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. The law is worrisome for many because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Louisiana law, June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) requiring abortion clinics in that state to be affiliated with a hospital and have admitting privileges.
Some hope Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new executive order giving state employees 12 weeks off to care for a new child is a harbinger for the passage of a bill that would bring that benefit – and more – to all New Mexico employees. Lujan Grisham made her announcement earlier this week. Starting with the first day of 2020, all state employees are now eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child, whether a birth or an adoption. Leave must be taken within the first six months following the child’s arrival. If both parents work for the state, both parents are eligible for the leave.
When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report.
When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.