I think we we’re all in need of a little good news, and on November 6th we finally got some. Voters went to the polls and dealt the Trump administration a stinging and welldeserved rebuke, building a solid progressive majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. With Trump’s stranglehold on Congress broken, the legislative branch can resume its abdicated duty checking the power of the executive. For the first time in two long years, we will have the power to block this administration’s anti-American agenda and hold it accountable for its past and future wrongdoings.
As satisfying as it was to see real progress made toward curbing some of the worst excesses of Trump’s cruel and lawless administration, that’s not what I’m most excited about. November 6th was also a major seachange for New Mexico with progressives sweeping races statewide, retaking the governorship, and strengthening majorities in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
These developments have profound and exciting implications for New Mexico’s future. For the past eight years, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has been a consistent impediment to the progress of liberty in our state. During her tenure, she has relentlessly advocated for reinstating the death penalty, dumb-on-crime criminal sentencing laws, voter suppression schemes, restricting women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and the persecution of immigrant communities. Last legislative session, she vetoed every ACLU supported bill that came across her desk. On January 1, 2019, the Martinez Era ends and a new day dawns for New Mexico.
The ACLU of New Mexico has been preparing to take advantage of this once in a generation opportunity to proactively pursue a pro-freedom agenda. We have built a three-pronged strategy to win major advancements in the upcoming legislative session that begins January 15th:
1) Reform New Mexico’s criminal justice system
The criminal justice system in New Mexico is broken. Over the past three decades, incarceration rates in the state of New Mexico have grown by a staggering 480%, and yet our state is still struggling with rising crime rates. It’s time to take a smarter approach to crime in New Mexico. We’re working with supportive legislators to push through a package of bills this session including bills that would:
- Provide for expungement and sealing of criminal records. Almost every other state in the country allows criminal records to be expunged after a certain amount of time. New Mexico needs to catch up and finally pass an expungement law during the 2019 session. People deserve a second chance and a clean slate when trying to move on with their lives years after they have paid their debt to society. Rep. Moe Maestas is sponsoring this bill.
- Reduce collateral consequences of incarceration. We’re advocating for the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, a bill that would compile a list of the specific barriers faced by people with a criminal record in New Mexico and provide opportunities for people to mitigate those barriers. These collateral consequences often include the very things that help people gain stability and move away from criminal behaviors, like steady housing, employment, and educational opportunities. Senator Joseph Cervantes is sponsoring this bill.
- Reform solitary confinement. The way the New Mexico’s correctional system uses solitary confinement is dangerous. Research stretching back over many decades shows that prolonged solitary confinement can cause or worsen mental illness. We’re advocating for a bill that would ban the use of solitary confinement on children, during pregnancy, and for people with mental health issues. The bill would also require extensive reporting on how solitary confinement is used. Representative Moe Maestas and Senator Mary Kay Papen are sponsoring this bill.
- Reform the parole system. We are also supporting a pair of parole reforms. One would expedite parole for elderly incarcerated people. Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino is sponsoring this bill. The other would make a person presumptively eligible for parole after a certain period, shifting the burden to the parole board to provide evidence of why they think a person should remain incarcerated. Senator Bill O’Neill is sponsoring this bill.
- Stop the failed War on Drugs. One of the largest drivers of mass incarceration are the drug sentencing laws that fill our prisons with people convicted for low level drug offenses. We’re working with partners on common sense reforms that would legalize marijuana and defelonize all types of drug possession. Addiction and drug abuse is a public health problem, not a criminal issue, requiring treatment, not incarceration.
2) Protect people in our state from Trump’s deportation machine
President Trump’s virulently anti-immigrant agenda has deeply impacted New Mexico communities and families. Over the past two years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has dramatically ramped up operations in our state, conducting early morning raids at the homes of undocumented and mixed-status families, stalking the courthouse grounds looking to arrest people when they show up for a court date, and raiding businesses and communities throughout the state. Many New Mexican families live in constant fear that they will be torn apart from their loved ones because of Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant policies.
The ACLU of New Mexico is working closely with our partners on a suite of legislative proposals designed to put obstacles in the path of Trump’s deportation machine. In particular, we want to limit the ability of state and local government agents to collaborate with federal immigration authorities. The details of these proposals are still being fleshed out, but we feel confident that New Mexico can lead the country in passing strong legislation to protect the rights of immigrant communities within our state.
3) Preserve and extend reproductive freedom in New Mexico
New Mexico has come a long way in extending reproductive freedom in the past fifty years. In the 1960s before Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to safe and legal abortion nationwide, New Mexico passed a law that criminalized abortion in almost all instances, subjecting healthcare providers to criminal penalties, which leaves women at extreme risk. Today, New Mexico stands out as one of the most progressive states where abortion access and reproductive health are concerned. Indeed, as surrounding states have passed increasingly restrictive laws governing abortion access in recent years, New Mexico has proactively worked to ensure that women’s private decisions about abortion are respected and free from government interference.
Though we are a beacon of reproductive freedom today, the old 1960s criminal abortion statute still slumbers in our books—unconstitutional and unenforceable since the Roe decision. As the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court shifts and the future of Roe becomes less certain, we must act now to ensure that women and families in New Mexico are protected regardless of what happens nationally. New Mexico can never go back to a time when women’s private decisions about abortion put them and their providers at risk of criminalization. Healthcare is not a crime, and abortion is healthcare. We’re working closely with our partners to pass legislation that would clean up our state’s law by removing this outdated and harmful criminal statute from our books. Together, we aim to permanently protect abortion access in New Mexico—no matter what.
Our reproductive freedom goals also include working with our partners to protect and expand meaningful access to contraception. The Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) dramatically improved insurance coverage of contraception for more than 55 million women across the country and over 300,000 here in New Mexico alone. But given the Trump Administration’s hostility toward reproductive healthcare, it’s important that we fight to ensure those gains are reinforced and protected in state law. This session, we’re proud to support a bill that would do just that, as well as enact additional protections that go even further to ensure that both men and women in our state are able to access the contraceptive care they need without financial barriers or insurance obstacles.
A more just, free, and vibrant New Mexico
We know it’s unlikely that we’ll accomplish our entire legislative agenda in 2019—but we know the ground has never been more fertile for progressive change. While the firehose of awfulness spewing out of Washington, D.C. can be overwhelming, we must never lose sight of the opportunities we have to change our own communities for the better. Yes, we will continue blocking Trump’s un-American agenda in New Mexico every chance we get—something we’ve been remarkably effective at thus far—but we’re not letting him define our agenda. We’ve set a course for a more just, free, and vibrant New Mexico, and no headwinds from the White House will prevent us from taking our state towards the future we believe in.