New Mexico lawmakers call for special session to address CYFD issues

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SANTA FE, N.M. – The 2023 legislative session has been over for more than a month, but some lawmakers are saying not enough got done.

Despite that, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham doesn’t seem to want to budge on the idea of calling the Legislature back for a special session.

“I think the public is going to ask me and these legislators know, so they’re not surprised by that. I’ll be asked to look into a public safety special session, and we usually find ourselves it’s an imperfect world where we didn’t anticipate. So the special sessions we have called have been unforeseen and dramatic circumstances,” said Lujan Grisham in March.

But these new calls for a special session are not about crime, instead, they want to work on the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department. 

Those calls are coming a little more than a week after the secretary of CYFD announced she was resigning. It’s the third time since 2021 that the department’s leader has left the position. 

Multiple lawmakers have made it clear they are not happy with the work that was done to address issues with CYFD, and they want to head back up to the Roundhouse to get more bills to the governor’s desk to try to improve the troubled agency. 

Multiple New Mexican lawmakers have been turning to social media, all calling for a special session to address issues with CYFD. 

“If there was ever a good reason for the Legislature to reconvene it would be to address the horrors that we continue to read about that are impacting our vulnerable children,” said Sen. Crystal Diamonds. 

Democratic state representatives Marian Matthews and Republican state Rep. Stephanie Lord both say CYFD has issues we need to address sooner rather than later.

“The reason I put that tweet out is because the governor had called for special sessions before like for marijuana, and I think babies dying is very important, and we need to address that right now, and we can’t wait any longer,” said Lord. 

Both Matthews and Lord have sponsored multiple bills that would address CYFD, but they specifically want to see two bills reconsidered by the Legislature. 

One would allow CYFD to be more transparent with the public about cases. The other bill would allocate $20 million to the department to increase staffing, but now the decision to call a special session or not is back in the governor’s court.

“I want people to put a tremendous amount of pressure on her, and I was very happy to see some Democrats are doing that,” said Lord. 

And if that doesn’t happen, some lawmakers hope they will be allowed to revisit these issues during the 30-day session next year.

“What I would hope for is Spencer is that the bills would be put on the call which is in the governor’s control in the 30 days session, so they can be debated and presented and hopefully passed and become the culture at CYFD,” said state Rep. Marian Matthews.

KOB 4 reached out to the governor’s office Tuesday for her response to these calls for a special session. 

She says at this time there are no plans to call a special session and her office has not heard directly from any of these representatives. 

A statement sent to KOB 4 from her office said:

“While the governor has not heard directly from legislators on a special session around CYFD, she wholeheartedly welcomes their suggestions for meaningful policies that will move the needle on child welfare in our state – many of which don’t require legislation to implement.

We want every tool at our disposal and every voice at the table as we work together to reform a department currently centered around an antiquated federal framework. That’s why we stood up a policy advisory team, which includes stakeholders from diverse backgrounds representing foster families and children, the juvenile justice system, behavioral health, and others with direct experience with the state’s child welfare system.

We are also doing other significant work around the Executive Order the governor signed in February and will be making announcements around our progress soon.

The governor was proud to sign Senate Bill 107, Custody Hearings Within 72 Hours, which increases the amount of time for affidavit filing from 48 hours to 72 hours. It gives CYFD investigators more time to compile and evaluate facts to file for custody hearings. Stronger casework at the beginning leads to better outcomes for children and youth. 

The governor and her administration are eager to continue the discussion around how best to improve CYFD ahead of the next session – it’s critical that any legislation put forward is thoroughly vetted and discussed to ensure it will be effective in improving the system and not adding unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy that do not advance our shared vision of making New Mexico kids safer.

In addition, the sole purpose of any special session should be to pursue legislative actions that have a path forward – not to relitigate unsuccessful proposals.”

The governor’s office did point out she signed Senate Bill 107, which would increase the amount of time CYFD investigators have to put together evidence before custody hearings.

But the representatives KOB 4 talked to Tuesday say much more than that needs to be done before the next session.