That’s all, folx! We made it through a 60-day virtual Legislative Session and a two-day Special Session! Through Hot mics, blatant racism caught on camera, misogyny and everything in between, victories for New Mexican workers and families are now on their way to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk to be signed into law.
This year’s legislative leadership allowed for community-led efforts to be heard across House and Senate Committees. All of which were streamed on the roundhouse webcast, a tool that created the most accessible session our state has ever seen. The broadened access to this year’s legislative session through Zoom and webcast brought a sharp relief to the obstacles many in New Mexico experience.
With more people of color, femmes of color and LGBTQIA folx, a historic shift rendered 2021 the most representative Legislative body to ever occupy the roundhouse, (virtually that is!) The growing pains of a more diverse and inclusive institution shook the guard rails in both the House and Senate — almost as if it was designed to exclude Black and brown women and queer members by design ????. Let’s review:
The historic passing of SB10, the Respect New Mexican Women and Families Act repealed an outdated statute from the 1960s that criminalized abortion in nearly all circumstances. With the makeup of our current Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade at risk, there was no better time to repeal this statute. One thing that was clear to us, this vote did not happen in a vacuum. It has been years of persistence from community advocates, leaders, and organizations from across New Mexico who worked tirelessly to remove the ban — since this legislation was originally introduced in 2017 — are at the heart of this historic vote.
This is what is possible when Black, Indigenous, women of color and people are centered in the work towards reproductive justice.
Health Justice & Early Childhood Education
Amid the ongoing pandemic, essential workers have been at the forefront of COVID-19 around the world. Employees in grocery stores, restaurants, health care and on farms worked around the clock, despite growing numbers of infected and hospitalized, to keep us fed, home, and healthy. While Paid Sick Leave was debated for hours throughout the entire Legislative Session by Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, ultimately, the bill was passed. This ensures that every person employed in the state is deserving and able to take time off when they are ill.
We also took an important step for future generations. With the passage of the Permanent Fund for Early Childhood Education, voters will decide come November 2022 if one percent of funds can be invested from the Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) to make early learning programs more affordable and provide childcare workers living wages. With several protections built in to ensure that the fund never depleted, it will remain a source for future generations. This not only prepares our children for successful education and careers, but this is a foundation in healing social and economic inequities.
Racial Justice & LGBTQ+ Justice
2020 was a year of reckoning for justice on behalf of Black communities in every corner of our country. With the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Bronna Taylor and many others, there was a desperate need to stand with Black folx everywhere, including New Mexico.
With the passing of the Civil Rights Act, banning Qualified Immunity would allow New Mexicans to sue for violations of their rights under the state Constitution in courts. In the past, qualified immunity protected law enforcement from becoming liable for abuse and kept New Mexican survivors from seeking justice. With over 100 police misconduct cases pending since last November, our communities of color who experience the brunt of most of these cases, know the weight that banning qualified immunity holds. Now, we are on our way to ensuring a more equitable justice system and healing for survivors.
Another triumph for Black and Indigenous communities was securing the Crown Act; aimed towards ending discrimination to race-based hairstyles like braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and in public schools. Early last year, New Mexican Navajo teen McKenzie Johnson sued the Albuquerque Public School District and the former teacher who cut Johnson’s hair and asked another student if she was dressed as a “bloody Indian.” While this a more recent account, many Indigenous and Black folx often experience this kind of discrimination and outright racism in schools, workplaces, and other predominantly white spaces.
Victory was also secured for our Trans youth. As more bills across the country are being signed into law targeting trans folx, New Mexicans struck down an anti-trans bill, “Women’s Sports Protection Act.” The bill, which required schools to designate athletic teams based on their assigned gender at birth, died in committee. Young people deserve opportunities, regardless of their gender and we know that trans youth join sports and athletic teams for the same reason anyone does— they seek teamwork and friendship. This bill not only targeted kids, but it signaled to them to see their friends and peers as different, less deserving, and threatening to their own opportunities. We’re glad to see that even as the rest of the country continues to target trans folx, that does not stand here in our state.
We’re feeling disappointed that many bills addressing climate change and our environment were not heard or left to die in committees. With the damage the Trump Administration had inflicted on our forests, bodies of water, and our air in the past four years, this was the time to undo or prevent further harm.
However, we had some wins. Local Government Air Quality Regulations, which gives state officials authority over requiring our state to pass regulations to serve the needs of our communities. It would also allow our state to take control over stronger pollution standards in order to protect our air, water and land.
In addition to enacting stronger standards for our environment, a Sustainable Economy Task Force bill was passed. Created for the purpose of economic diversification, New Mexican frontline workers in our most impacted communities will be the guiding voice for a clean-energy economy in our state.
Special Session: Legalize Marijuana
If one session was not enough, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called for a Special Session centered over her administrative priority of legalizing cannabis. A two-day debate which entailed heavy use of the racist and unjust “War on Drugs,” dominated the conversation. While many legislators pointed out that it overcriminalized BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx as well as incarcerating members of our communities — and still does — they also highlighted the stigmatization of marijuana itself, and how it inflicts suffering through many generations of our families.
Along with the passing of this bill, there will be measures to undo the worst consequences that many have undergone — expunging of criminal records to cannabis offenses.
Legalizing marijuana is not about creating another Colorado. It’s about gaining justice for the folx in our communities that are constantly targeted, jailed and have had their records ruined by marijuana related offenses. It’s about restorative justice and chipping away at the building blocks of racism to heal the suffering our communities experience.
Our collective work in sharing social media posts, calling and emailing our legislators, testifying, and opening up conversations with friends and family that we were able to make history together. The sheer fact that we were able to adapt a whole Legislative Session to be held virtually during a pandemic is a victory within itself.
Yes, there were some disappointments, in our legislators showing their true colors, and losing some bills like Automatic Voting Registration, Restoration of Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated folx, and lowering the voting age. But, there is still work to be done. And it’s going to take every single one of us working together to uplift the issues and keep up the momentum now through future legislative sessions.