SGR: How Are The Children?

By Rep. STEPHANIE GARCIA RICHARD
Dist.43: Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Sandoval, Rio Arriba
 
How Are The Children?

As a mother, I am heart broken by the senseless tragedies plaguing our state. As a Legislator, I am outraged by the repeated lack of action that has now led to the deaths of two young children and multiple police officers.

Within the next few days, Governor Martinez will call a special session to deal with the projected $500 million budget deficit and a few ‘tough on crime’ pieces of legislation. Although her actions are politically motivated, we should take this opportunity to address some of the major shortcomings in our system now.

Two years ago we suffered a tragic loss of a little boy that could have been avoided and many legislators spent the 2014 legislative session fighting to strengthen penalties for crimes against children and increase funding for first responders and our courts. With bipartisan support, we passed a budget that included additional resources for the courts, first responders, and CYFD to fill vacant child protective services positions to deal with shortages and demands on the current underpaid and overworked CYFD caseworkers.

We also tried to address CYFD’s lack of enforcement and legal right to take action when they discovered an abused child. I co-sponsored House Bill 333, otherwise known as Omaree’s Law after the death of Omaree Varela. Omaree died at the hands of an abusive parent after repeated calls to CYFD and police. The law would have required CYFD to take children with physical signs of abuse into custody and created additional safeguards and penalties. 

We had the opportunity to hire new CYFD caseworkers, with fresh eyes and smaller case loads to identify abuse victims like Victoria Martens and pass a law that would have required a caseworker to remove Victoria from her home. We had the opportunity to fund the courts so they would have had the resources to monitor criminals like the ones who murdered Victoria. But that’s not what happened.

In the end, Omaree’s Law didn’t make it through the Senate and Governor Martinez refused to fill the much needed CYFD positions and even vetoed funding for courts to track evidence that help them do their job (HB55).

In 2016, Governor Martinez touted her commitment to hold repeat violent offenders accountable through a plethora of tough on crime bills that increased penalties. While I crossed the aisle to join Republicans in voting to make it a hate crime to kill a police officer (HB 95) and supporting the 3-strikes legislation (HB56) to keep repeat offenders in jail, Governor Martinez was systematically dismantling our mental health services throughout the state, putting some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable in harm’s way.

Whether it has been voting to increase penalties for child pornography and violent criminals or consistently sponsoring legislation to crack down on DWI, my commitment has always been to keep our families and children safe. 

We have a tough decision ahead of us over the next few months. Do we continue to ignore the root causes of crime by only tackling issues that cost taxpayers millions like 3-strikes and the death penalty? Or do we start to actually invest in our schools, first responders, social workers and rehabilitation programs? With a $500 million deficit – we can’t do both. You decide.

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