Originally published in the spring 2018 Torch 

As expected, the 2018 New Mexico legislative session kicked off with a fear-mongering speech by Governor Susana Martinez calling for a slew of hyperpunitive sentencing laws to address the spike in crime that many New Mexico communities are experiencing. In close collaboration with the New Mexico SAFE coalition (www.nmsafe.org), the ACLU of New Mexico spent most of the session beating back a tidal wave of recycled, misguided, draconian crime bills that would cost our state a lot of money, stuff more people into New Mexico prisons and jails, and do almost nothing to improve public safety in our state.

We worked tirelessly to defeat an effort to reinstate the death penalty. We also defeated a long list of mandatory sentencing laws, such as multiple efforts to strengthen New Mexico’s “three strikes” law, as well as multiple efforts to make it easier to detain people charged with a crime before they have their day in court.
Throughout these heated debates, the ACLU of New Mexico coordinated with allies to depoliticize the public debate around crime in New Mexico, urging legislators to embrace evidence-based approaches to improve public safety. Along with our New Mexico SAFE partners, with some reservations we supported an omnibus crime bill, HB19, that combined five different criminal justice reform proposals into one gigantic bill. The best proposal of the bunch removes the possibility of incarceration for a host of minor nonviolent infractions, replacing it with a monetary penalty. The measure passed both chambers, but the governor vetoed important sections and her “line-item” veto may have violated the state constitution.
On the one hand, this omnibus crime bill was an encouraging indicator that reasonable bipartisan criminal justice reform is possible in New Mexico. On the other hand, the ACLU of New Mexico is already making plans for a much more ambitious criminal justice reform package that we hope to push forward for the remainder of 2018. With a new governor in place, who is more forward-looking when it comes to public safety, we can pass this slate of reforms during the 2019 session.
Although crime took up most of our attention this legislative session, we also worked to protect other civil liberties. With community partners, we supported a bill to remove an old, outdated state law from the 1960s that criminalizes abortion. Although the law is unconstitutional, and therefore unenforceable under Roe v. Wade, it’s important to get it off the books now, given the precarious nature of the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for this outdated law to be used to shame and criminalize women and providers. Although we couldn’t get this bill through the legislature this time around, we laid the groundwork to make a much bigger push to repeal this law in 2019.

With community partners, we supported a bill to remove an old, outdated state law from the 1960s that criminalizes abortion. 

We also successfully defeated a measure that would have forced young women to notify their parents before seeking abortion services. Strong family communication is built on trust, not government interference. Forced parental notification threatens the health and safety of New Mexico’s young women and families. Research has shown that most young people are likely to involve a trusted adult when seeking abortion services regardless of whether a state law mandating parental notification is in place. However, young women who do not feel safe talking to their parents about a pregnancy—for whatever reason—need access to trusted providers and safe and legal care.
Another major victory this session involved the bipartisan defeat of a resolution to request Congress to call for a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. We’ve only had one constitutional convention in the history of our nation, in 1787, and that resulted in an entirely new founding document for our country. There is no way to ensure that a constitutional convention would be limited to the desired subject matter. In a worst-case scenario, a convention could result in a wholesale rewrite of the U.S. Constitution. This is a gamble that we simply can’t risk, especially now, when we have a president in the White House who is overtly hostile to the Bill of Rights.
It was a fast and furious session, and with the help of dozens of incredible volunteers (see “Our Volunteers In Action”), the ACLU of New Mexico was able to have a powerful and positive impact on the legislative process. Stay tuned for our plans during the remainder of 2018 to build support for a proactive “liberty agenda” in the 2019 legislative session.

Our Volunteers In Action

The ACLU of New Mexico benefitted from the largest volunteer operation in our history during the 2018 legislative session. We conducted four in-person advocacy trainings – one in Albuquerque, one in Santa Fe, and two in Las Cruces – and one statewide webinar to provide activists with the tools they need to push legislators to take the right votes on civil liberties. We trained approximately 180 activists in total.
Almost every weekday, and on many weekends, volunteers accompanied ACLU of New Mexico staff to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe to storm the halls of the capitol, conversing with legislators and legislative staff about our key priorities. Activists wrote emails to legislators. Right before crucial votes, they called legislative offices. Some volunteers even testified in legislative committee meetings on our priority bills.

When New Mexicans take time out of their busy days to reach out directly to legislators about matters close to their hearts, politicians listen. 

This coordinated campaign had an undeniable impact. Legislators get tired of hearing from the same ACLU of New Mexico lobbyists session after session. When New Mexicans take time out of their busy days to reach out directly to legislators about matters close to their hearts, politicians listen. Time and time again, we saw legislators repeating back the exact messages they had heard from our activists. This changed hearts and minds, and made it much easier for us to achieve our primary objectives this session. We plan to extend this volunteer effort into the interim legislative period from May to December 2018, to lay the foundation for the 2019 legislative session, when we have a new governor, hopefully one who is less hostile to civil liberties.