Chris was the lead sponsor of the Healthy Workplaces Act to guarantee workers the right to earn sick leave & co-sponsored HB291 to expand tax credits and rebates to provide more support for low-income families.
Most recently in the 2021 Legislative Session, Chris co-sponsored HB11 which provides $200 million in direct financial support to small and mid-sized New Mexico businesses affected by the COVID pandemic. Chris led economic development efforts to create a funding mechanism for the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) for larger construction projects.
Chris has worked extensively on the Connect NM Act to expand broadband access to New Mexicans and ensure there is a cohesive program to expand the access across the state. $100 million was allocated for the program.
Chris voted to ensure those with preexisting conditions have access to affordable, quality healthcare. And, she fought for lower prescription drug costs.
In her first session, Chris advocated for reform of the tax code by eliminating tax loopholes as well as tax credits and deductions that provide no public benefit. The efforts lowered the tax burden on 70% of working New Mexico families to promote a tax code that is more fair and equitable.
Chris has led efforts to protect workers from wage theft, ensure due process in the leasing of water rights, provide consumer protections for private post-secondary students, and offer retirement security for private sector workers. And, Chris worked with her colleagues to pass Roxy’s Law to prohibit trapping on public lands.
Chris knows that a systemic approach is needed to address healthcare in New Mexico.
She believes that state government can and should play a more effective role in improving citizens’ lives. One area that she has fought for is improving access to, and availability of, healthcare including behavioral and addictive treatment and prevention services. With recent on-going efforts at the federal level to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Chris has advocated for the State to ensure protections for our residents. The NM State Legislature has passed legislation to protect New Mexicans with preexisting conditions. Chris knows that we must continually find ways to ensure that all New Mexicans have access to necessary and affordable healthcare.
Chris believes that we should take a holistic approach to this goal. We need to redesign communities and schools to integrate health and well-being into their missions. All New Mexicans must have reliable access to primary care and preventative services, as well as specialty care. We know that spending money and energy on wellness up front saves money in the long term, but we haven’t been doing this as well as we could as a state.
To achieve this goal, we start at the beginning by supporting young families. This includes an array of programs and policies. In addition to universal access to excellent early childhood programs, we need to increase support for state health department offices, and school-based centers. These programs are charged with the responsibility of working with communities to implement preventative health initiatives, promote health and well-being and conduct early screening for health issues as well as to respond to public health threats. Rural residents are in desperate need of basic health and other services; we must devise strategies to ensure that all New Mexico residents have access to primary care providers and emergency services.
Chris is often asked whether she supports a single-payer health system. Her answer is yes. To ensure maximum economies of scale, the better approach is a national single payer system. However, given the lack of leadership on this issue at the national level, she supports moving toward such a system on the state level. As a first step, she endorses recent New Mexico House and Senate Memorials calling for a study of ways to increase access to Medicaid. Medicaid and Medicare are successful programs that we can build into a single-payer system.
It is obvious that uniform access to health care and health security across geographic and socio-economic barriers is a complex issue with few easy fixes. Crafting successful legislative solutions to this problem will require focused leadership, a broad view, and intense collaboration among the various interests.
The major environmental issues facing New Mexico in the short term include water supply, wildfire policy, and resource extraction. Because New Mexico’s lands are simultaneously recreational, economic, and cultural resources, we must navigate competing ideas from different political sectors when establishing policies so we can derive economic benefit from natural resources while minimizing damage to the environment.
Some impacts to the environment have relatively easy legislative fixes. For example, most acequias are negatively affected when water rights are transferred to other locations, even for short times. The water leasing statute allows a company to use water for fracking immediately when it applies for a lease, but other types of water transfer require the public to receive notice and have an opportunity to object. Chris supports legislation to end the easy transfer of water without hearings to provide communities a chance to defend their resources.
A more difficult problem is that state water law, and the State Engineer who enforces it, often present barriers to solutions rather than enabling them. Given the importance of water to New Mexico and the increasing competition for supplies within the state and with our neighbors, she supports an in-depth study that looks at the whole water problem including the role of the State Engineer.
Our forests, grasslands, and other wild areas must be managed to benefit the public, to protect watersheds and wildlife, and to avoid the ravages caused by wildfires and erosion. We must balance logging and grazing uses with recreation and conservation and work to avoid extreme destructive wildfires through a careful policy of controlled burns and thinning. The state legislature must carefully regulate mining and the extraction of oil and gas to protect aquifers and surface water, while the corporations who profited from resources must take responsibility for thoughtfully shutting down and restoring the land around abandoned mines and wells.
New Mexico is already feeling the impact of global climate change, most noticeably in reduced precipitation and increased wildfires, insect infestations, and changing patterns of vegetation. We must continue to encourage the development of carbon-free, renewable power sources such as wind and solar while minimizing the environmental impact of wind turbines, solar arrays, and power transmission lines. We must better regulate the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, including methane from coal, gas, and oil extraction; refrigerants; and carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. There is a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, now being marketed as a source of carbon-free energy. For example, her own community of Los Alamos is considering participating in a new concept nuclear plant based in Idaho. One downside of returning to nuclear power is renewed pressure to allow uranium mining and storage of reactor waste products in New Mexico, with their attendant environmental (bad) and economic (good) impacts.
Climate change is inevitable and underway. Even if the recent changes to global protocols are enforced, it will take decades--possibly centuries--to reverse the course of greenhouse-gas generated global warming, so we must be prepared to adjust our lifestyles, infrastructure, and agriculture to deal with its effects.
Like most issues, environmental problems do not have black and white solutions. In order to craft a path of sustainable development, it is crucial to seek out new information and understand the details of each challenge. In the coming years, we must develop policy that allows us to derive the economic benefits of our resources to support the state’s economy while protecting the natural environment and cultural values that make living in New Mexico such a joy.
There is no simple solution to the problems of crime and criminal justice in New Mexico. In spite of decades of “tough-on-crime” legislation and a record prison population, we find ourselves again facing an increasing crime rate. New Mexico and the United States still have huge numbers of people in jails and prisons, including a surprising increase in the number of women. Nevertheless we can fix it.
Chris subscribes to the old adage, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Our criminal justice system is not producing the results we seek, so we must do something different, look for a new approach. That means abandoning the simple notion that ratcheting up penalties will deter criminals. It means eliminating laws and rules that continue to punish offenders upon release by keeping them from meaningful work and denying them opportunities to participate in the community. Research suggests that we can rehabilitate many offenders and make them into productive citizens, reduce the load on the criminal justice system, and make our families and communities safer at the same time.
A new approach means doing research into the causes of crime and recidivism, and instituting evidence-based programs that divert young or first-time, low-level, or non-violent criminals into treatment, supervision, and training programs. It means dedicating resources to develop and sustain those programs, especially expanding them into rural New Mexico where they are largely non-existent. It means recognizing that life patterns are created in early childhood and that early childhood education and counseling for disadvantaged children is critical to keeping them out of the juvenile and adult justice systems. And it means dedicating new resources to the whole system to bring crime under control.
Investing in children and diverting them from the criminal justice system not only means reductions in the expensive prison system, but most importantly, gives our young people an opportunity to flourish beyond a life of cyclical crime and poverty.
All elements of the criminal justice system are overwhelmed, under-staffed, and under-funded. We created an independent Public Defender, but the office was immediately swamped by a caseload so enormous that the Chief Public Defender refused to accept new cases in one district. District Attorneys are underfunded: the DA in Albuquerque had to ask for an emergency appropriation of $5 million to meet rising crime there. The Magistrate Court system is also underfunded. The various courts continually loan clerks to one another to keep up with their caseloads, and many courts cannot keep staff because they cannot compete with other employers for salary.
The District courts are swamped: prisoners are sometimes kept in jail awaiting trial for so long that the wait exceeds the possible sentence, and prisoners have been known to plead guilty to get out of jail. The Department of Corrections at any given time has hundreds of prisoners who are eligible for release on parole or probation but are being kept in prison because the treatment or residence programs they are required to attend as a condition of release do not have available space. Police departments are also overwhelmed. Many departments simply can’t respond to all calls for service, and some ask people to file their complaints by e-mail. Limited budgets impede many departments’ recruitment efforts. Police departments should be able to pay wages sufficient to attract the college-educated professionals we need.
A felony conviction has collateral consequences that may be a ticket to a lifetime of poverty and disenfranchisement. The New Mexico Sentencing Commission has identified 71 instances of such consequences embedded in the New Mexico statutes. In addition, felons are not eligible for federal student loans, federally subsidized housing, and other federal benefits. It does not make sense to release people from prison and leave them without the ability to earn a living, find housing, or support their families. New halfway houses and transitional residences are far cheaper than prison cells, and behavioral health and drug treatment programs provide value to communities far beyond the prevention of crime. Providing early childhood programs will pay off in ways too numerous to describe here.
The legislature must abandon the failed, simplistic, tough-on-crime approach and start reducing sentences for non-violent crimes, decriminalizing minor drug and traffic offenses, and reversing the code changes that escalated hundreds of misdemeanors to felonies. We must encourage law enforcement to raise recruiting standards for police and provide them tools and services to divert first-time, non-violent offenders into treatment and job training. Diverting low-level offenders from jail and prison saves the system money; helping them become self-sufficient means their families will not be on the welfare rolls and their children will not continue the cycle of crime and poverty. We must adequately fund prosecutors, public defenders, police, courts, and corrections to make the criminal justice system speedy and efficient.
We can do this!
New Mexico is failing too many of its children. There is overwhelming evidence that early childhood education and programs that mentor young parents pay enormous dividends in terms of success in school and keeping at-risk children out of the criminal justice system. Yet, despite the proven benefits, funding for these systems is inadequate to serve all those in need.
Quality pre-kindergarten (PreK) programs have been shown to improve student achievement. New Mexico’s Public Education Department administers an early childhood program for families with children aged 3 and 4 years old, and just over 8,000 children received PreK services in fiscal year (FY) 2015. While that is an excellent start, it represents only about 30% of those eligible, leaving thousands more children without the long-term benefits and advantages these programs provide.
Home visiting is a voluntary parental education and mentoring program shown to reduce child abuse and improve children’s overall health. For example, First Born is an evidence-based program supported by the Children, Youth and Families Department. Trained home visitors help new parents develop parenting skills tied to the child’s particular stage in development and can provide access to other important family services.
While FY 2018 estimates indicate 3,700 families will receive home visiting services, roughly 7,000 eligible families still go without these important resources. We can increase funding to these types of programs to allow communities to develop quality infrastructure and assure access to this programming. As we strive to connect more eligible families with these services, we must also continue to assess and improve program effectiveness through a standards-based accountability system.
Many are frustrated by the statistics that show New Mexico at the bottom of so many lists. Chris will always champion proven and effective initiatives that will turn these unacceptable trends around and improve opportunities for all New Mexico’s children.