In the musical “Hamilton”, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, there’s a song describing wanting to be where the action is when laws are made. Like Aaron Burr’s character singing “In The Room Where It Happens,” I was curious about the decision-making process in New Mexico’s legislative session beyond knowing the bare bones of bill introduction and subsequent votes to pass. I had that opportunity this session with Young Women United (YWU), an organization that leads policy change, research, place-based organizing, and culture shift strategies by and for women and people of color in New Mexico.
I won’t go into details but will say that it is fascinating to see the impact of floor debates, intense questioning in committee hearings, and compelling public testimony on bills that affect all New Mexicans.
For instance, when federal funding for the in-school program for high school-aged parents was in jeopardy, we assisted with including state funding for the program into the 2018 budget. YWU has worked closely with the GRADS program and knows the importance of ensuring funding remains steady for the program which has a 78% graduation rate. This session was budget-focused and only 30 days,therefore there was only a certain amount of time to have conversations with legislators and inform them of the federal funding lapse, the need for the state to step in, and work closely with the Public Education Department to ensure the state budget included this much-needed program.
Our policy team of two, Denicia Cadena and Naomie Germain, worked tirelessly to carve out capital outlay spending on wands for drug detection in Bernalillo County’s juvenile detention center. Denicia and Naomie collaborated with detention center officials to explain to legislators that strip searches are not only intensely invasive, and can traumatize a detainee or further exacerbate pre-existing psychological damage from previous lived experiences. While wands won’t eliminate all strip searches, YWU worked toward the goal of limiting unnecessary searches for the benefit of young people in detention.
During a legislative session, the schedule for committees to consider bills quickly changes which leaves little ability to pre-plan having individuals impacted by a bill show up a specific day. Therefore a rapid response is needed for an opportunity to include public feedback. YWU helped organize speakers to provide input on House Bill 56 with just days notice. Youth gave heartfelt narratives of how the bill, which would force young people to notify parents of a planned abortion, may do more harm than good. They gave first-hand accounts of how legislation would not help create communication if there was little to none already existing and may even strain currently-fragile relationships. With the help of these speakers, the bill did not move any further this year.
An aspect of YWU’s mission is to change policy and drive culture shifts by and for women of color in New Mexico. To watch that work unfold this year was quite the experience. After a quick breath from this year’s session our policy team has begun preparing for the the upcoming 60-day-session in 2019.
With the advent of online streaming, you have an opportunity to be (virtually) in the room where it happens and stop lamenting being left out like Hamilton’s nemesis and Broadway bad guy, Aaron Burr.
YWU staff also watch progress on the following bills this legislative session:
HB 27 Change Parole to Supervised Release
HB 132 Homeless Rapid Rehousing
HB 151 Indian Students Needs Assessments
HB 190 Dual Sentencing for Some Youthful Offenders
HB 252 Criminal Justice and Public Safety Task Force
HB 262 Pretrial Risk Assessments for Bail
HB 297 School Attendance Interventions
HM 12 Opioid Crisis Subcommittee
HJM 2 LFC Plan on Inpatient Mental Health
SB 136 Nursing Compact Rules
SB 211 Payment of Restitution for Crimes
SB 242 SNAP Program Work Requirements