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Organizers in the Land of Enchantment Help Pass Historic Legislation

The 2021 legislative session in New Mexico was a historic one. Not only was this the first session that was held completely virtually, the New Mexico legislature passed a slew of historic bills, including the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (Crown Act) to fight discrimination against natural hairstyles, repealing an old abortion ban, and ensuring that BIPOC communities will be at the center of decisions made as New Mexico transitions to clean energy. For Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), two bills in particular were a long time coming: the constitutional amendment for early education and statewide paid sick leave. 

There has been a push to pass paid sick leave in Albuquerque since 2015. In 2016, OLÉ and other organizations worked to get sick leave qualified for the ballot but were kept off by the Bernalillo County Commission and pushed to the 2017 election. In 2017, the question was placed on the back of the ballot and while the measure failed by 718 votes, it was discovered the next day that over 6,000 voters didn’t vote at the back of the ballot, which means there were a significant number of voters who did not realize the question was there. While the city council did not take any sort of meaningful action, the state legislature passed paid sick leave making New Mexico the 14th state that offers paid sick leave, with workers having the ability to earn 64 hours per year. The bill did not have an easy path, but an amendment that pushes the bill to 2022 helped ensure its passage. 

House Joint Resolution 1, the constitutional amendment ballot measure for early education, felt like an impossible bill just a few years ago. OLÉ has been working on this bill since its inception in 2009 and families who started this fight with OLÉ in 2010 now have children in middle and high school. 

As the bill was refined and gained popularity in the state House of Representatives, a handful of lawmakers continued to block the bill from even receiving a hearing in the state Senate. Those Senators all lost their seats in the 2020 primary and, while the bill still faced some steep opposition, the most powerful opponents were gone and the bill passed both chambers on the second to the last day of session. HJR1 will allow voters to decide whether or not New Mexico should make early education a right for all children aged 0-5, and if approved, New Mexico will be responsible for funding early education, much like they fund K-12 education. Because New Mexico sits on one of the wealthiest land grant permanent funds in the country (currently at $20 billion), the funding exists to pay for early education - it just needs voter approval. Passage of HJR1 will make that question even possible. 

New Mexico has remained stagnant at 50th in child wellbeing since YEAR, and as a majority people of color state, it’s BIPOC children who stand to benefit from early education, as well as increased wages for early educators, most of whom are women of color. This fight is not over, but we are leaps and bounds closer than we were even a year ago. If you are interested in learning more and getting involved with OLÉ, click here.