New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats Seek to Restore Honor to Service Members Discharged Due to Sexual Orientation

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham have cosponsored the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, S. 1766 in the Senate and H.R. 3068 in the House. The legislation will help service members discharged due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.

“I was proud to vote to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, which forced otherwise qualified service members to hide who they were or face discharge from the military. Those who were pushed out were willing to sacrifice everything to defend our nation. Instead, they were unfairly denied dignity, recognition and veterans’ benefits,” Udall said. “It’s time to right this wrong and restore their records to reflect their honorable service and ensure they can get the benefits they earned.”

“Doing away with the discriminatory military policy of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ brought us closer to achieving full equality for all Americans. Yet thousands of our heroic gay and lesbian former service members still haven’t received the recognition and benefits they’ve earned,” Heinrich said. “Every service member in New Mexico and across the country has helped protect and enhance our national security. It’s time we do right by them by ensuring their military records reflect that honor.”

“Thousands of men and women have put their lives on the line to bravely defend our nation, yet for no other reason than their sexual orientation they faced a discharge that fails to reflect their honorable service,” Luján said. “We have made great strides to promote equality within our military and it is time to take the next step by ensuring gay and lesbian service members receive the recognition and benefits they have earned.”

“We must do more than acknowledge past discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers who served in the military,” Lujan Grisham said. “That discrimination resulted in long-lasting consequences beyond being discharged from the military. We have an obligation to correct individual military records to reflect honorable service, and ensure veterans’ services are available to every person who suffered from discrimination.”

Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances. As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and may not be able to claim veteran status. The consequences of a negative discharge also include preventing some veterans from voting or making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act would make permanent law the current Department of Defense (DoD) policy allowing service members who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation to correct their records to reflect their honorable service. The bill would also simplify the paperwork requirement necessary for service members to initiate a review. In particular, it makes clear that the lack of documentation cannot be used as the basis for denying a review and it would remove the burden of proof from the service member and place it on DoD to find and produce relevant documentation. Finally, the bill would require each of the military service historians to review the facts and circumstances of the estimated 100,000 service members discharged for their sexual orientation prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. ” Doing so would improve the historical record that the department and military services use to help service members prove that they were discharged solely for their sexual orientation and reflect their honorable service.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets.org, OutServe-SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign, American Veterans for Equal Rights, Lambda Legal, Swords to Plowshares, the American Bar Association, Unitarian Universalist Association, and the American Humanist Association.

Equality New Mexico Slams Steve Pearce

In a statement issued today, Equality New Mexico (EQNM), a statewide New Mexico LGBT civil rights organization, slammed Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM2) for signing on as a sponsor of the so-called First Amendment Defence Act, a bill to legalize anti-LGBT discimination and workplace discrimination for single mothers and unmarried couples. EQNM called on donors to refrain from supporting Pearce in the future. The statement follows:

“Equality New Mexico, New Mexico’s statewide civil rights advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, calls upon allies of fairness, respect, and LGBT equality to refrain from providing funds to the campaign of U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce.

Pearce_too_extreme“Rep. Pearce is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), an inaccurately and misleadingly named piece of legislation introduced in U.S. Congress this month that would open the door to unprecedented taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, and unmarried couples.

“’Not only is this legislation unnecessary, it is an outright slap in the face to our New Mexico values of fairness and respect,’ says Amber Royster, Executive Director of Equality New Mexico. “Imagine New Mexico State University being protected by federal law for firing a professor because she’s pregnant and unmarried, or being a same-sex couple and having your tax return refused because an IRS agent opposes same-sex marriage – these are exactly the kinds of things this legislation does.”

“In addition to the sweeping discriminatory provisions, the legislation includes for-profit corporations in its definition of “a person,” and allows individuals, groups, and businesses, including recipients of federal funds, to file lawsuits under this act and potentially receive damages from taxpayer money.

“’Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Intel, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast – these companies have been visible allies to the LGBT community, and some have even made contributions to EQNM,’ continued Royster. ‘Unfortunately, these companies are also funneling money to Representative Pearce, a staunch opponent to LGBT rights and equality. This drastic piece of legislation requires that we are much more critical of what companies we promote as and call allies, particularly those that contribute financially to legislators and candidates who espouse intolerance, inequality, and hate.'”

Senator Udall Reaffirms Call for Action on Child Well-Being

New ranking shows urgent need for collaboration, investment in what works

Following a new report that shows New Mexico still ranks 49th in the nation for child well-being, U.S. Senator Tom Udall reaffirmed his call for local, state and national collaboration to improve the health and education of New Mexico children. The new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which used 2013 data, found that New Mexico’s child poverty rate increased to 31 percent from 29 percent the year before. Udall released the following statement:

“New Mexico’s children deserve better than next to last — they deserve action. Let’s commit to strengthening the programs that help children reach their full potential — infant and toddler care, preschool, school meal programs and more. I’m pushing for legislation to invest in these anti-poverty programs at the federal level, but collaboration is what will lift New Mexico from the bottom of child well-being rankings.

“Change won’t happen overnight. We all need to work together for outcomes to improve — federal and state officials, public and private sector, community organizations and parents themselves. I’ve endorsed a state constitutional amendment to prioritize funding for early childhood education, and I’ve pushed the state legislature to act. But all of us need to challenge ourselves to do more and keep working toward progress. The future of our children and our economy depends on it.”

Earlier this year, Udall introduced legislation aimed at helping improve the health and education of New Mexico children by increasing access to federal education and anti-poverty programs. The Saving Our Next Generation (SONG) Act would fully fund and streamline eligibility for programs that are proven to improve child well-being, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start, school meal programs and housing assistance.

Dem Chair Calls on CYFD to End DC Style Gridlock for Kids Well Being

‘Time for CYFD to Cut the Red Tape’

Democratic Party Chairwoman Deb Haaland called for the Children, Youth, and Families Department to address the issues the agency is facing by working with legislators that have reached out in efforts to fix the department. Haaland’s comments come on the heels of news reports that state legislators have had to ‘beg’ for information and data points that they think would help make the agency more efficient and be able to more effectively help children, especially foster kids.

Senator Michael Padilla was quoted in news reports last week saying “It’s almost comical that we can’t get this information. I mean, this is very, very important stuff here… Now, we’re having to practically beg the CYFD department to help get this information.” (Full story – click here)

“It is absolutely ridiculous that an elected official cannot get the records or information that they need to do their job,” said Haaland Monday. “Nothing should be taken more seriously than issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens, and nothing should be handled more promptly than ways to help our children. It’s time for CYFD to cut through the red tape, get the information to the people that requested it, and start fixing a department that has become a roadblock for our kids.”

Senator Udall Welcomes Formal Restoration of Diplomatic Relations between United States and Cuba

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement as the United States and Cuba formally re-established diplomatic relations after 54 years:

“The re-opening of the embassies in Havana and Washington marks a turning point in a relationship fraught with mistrust and Cold War antagonism. While both our countries have many differences to resolve, the best diplomats of American values are Americans themselves, and I believe that by re-establishing formal relations and further opening Cuba to American tourism, trade and commerce, we ultimately will bring freedom and openness to Cuba. There is still much work to do — Congress must act to lift the trade embargo and ease restrictions on trade and tourism that hinder the freedom of Americans and Cubans to travel and do business. I will continue to work on the Foreign Relations Committee to push for a repeal of these outdated laws.”

Weekly Address: A Comprehensive, Long-Term Deal with Iran

In this week’s address, the President explained the comprehensive, long-term deal announced earlier this week that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This agreement cuts off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon, implements unprecedented monitoring and inspections of Iran’s key nuclear facilities, and ensures that if Iran violates these terms, the strict sanctions previously imposed on the country will snap back into place.  This is a good deal that demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.

Watch and share President Obama’s weekly address.

District Attorney Mark D’Antonio will Hold a Town Hall Forum in Hatch, NM

District Attorney Mark D'Antonio

District Attorney Mark D’Antonio

The Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office is organizing a Community Town Hall Forum to be held on Friday, July 24, 2015, at 1:00pm. This Forum will take place at the Hatch Public Library, located at 522 E. Hall St. Hatch, NM 87937.

The purpose of this forum is to provide public information and direct communication with constituents with regard to “Justice Matters”. The District Attorney and his staff will be present and available to address concerns, hear ideas, and meet the public.
Local Law Enforcement will be invited. We encourage and invite all members of the community to attend this open forum. We look forward to seeing you there.

Senators Udall, Heinrich Announce $3.3 Million for Support Services at College Campuses across New Mexico

 
Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced 13 grants totaling more than $3.3 million to fund the TRIO Student Support Services program, which helps provide additional support for low-income and first-generation college students, as well as students with disabilities. College campuses across New Mexico will receive funding to provide services designed to help students stay in school and graduate, such as tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, and financial guidance.
 
The New Mexico schools receiving grants are: Central New Mexico Community College – Joseph M. Montoya Campus; Central New Mexico Community College – Main Campus; Clovis Community College; Eastern New Mexico University – Portales; Eastern New Mexico University – Roswell; New Mexico Junior College; New Mexico State University; San Juan College; San Juan College – STEM; Santa Fe Community College; University of New Mexico – Albuquerque; University of New Mexico – Gallup; and University of New Mexico – Taos. Funding begins in September for the fall semester. The award amount is for the first year, but it is expected to be renewed each year for a total of five years.
 
“Navigating college is challenging for any student, but it can be particularly overwhelming if you’re the first person in your family to attend school – or if you’re balancing a job, living with a disability, or taking care of children or other relatives while attending classes. Extra support to help students with everything from signing up for the right courses, to managing family and financial responsibilities can be the key to success,” Udall said. “TRIO grants have made a big difference for students and colleges in New Mexico, and I’m proud to support the program as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. These grants are an important investment in our students’ futures and our state’s economy.”
 
“TRIO’s Student Support Services program gives first generation, low-income New Mexico students the tools and resources they need to earn a college degree,” Heinrich said. “These grants will allow 11 colleges across New Mexico to provide youth, veterans, and unemployed adults with additional support and assistance to increase retention and graduation rates. When our students receive a world-class, affordable education – no matter where they come from – it improves their well-being, strengthens their communities, and boosts our struggling economy.”
 
Individual grant award amounts follow:
 
Central New Mexico Community College – Joseph M. Montoya Campus: $220,000
Central New Mexico Community College – Main Campus: $247,584
Clovis Community College: $247,584
Eastern New Mexico University – Portales: $353,084
Eastern New Mexico University – Roswell: $220,000
New Mexico Junior College: $268,485
New Mexico State University: $390,463
San Juan College: $231,103
San Juan College – STEM: $220,000
Santa Fe Community College: $231,103
University of New Mexico – Albuquerque: $247,582
University of New Mexico – Gallup: $235,228
University of New Mexico – Taos: $219,970

Senators Udall, Heinrich Announce $6.1 Million In FAA Grants For New Mexico Airports

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) have announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation, has awarded more than $6.1 million for rehabilitation and development projects for airports across New Mexico. These grants will be used for the construction of a new airport at Zuni Pueblo, runway rehabilitation, airport planning, and perimeter fencing.

“These grants will improve and expand airports throughout New Mexico, helping boost local economies by increasing access for residents and tourists. This funding will also support economic development and create jobs by encouraging businesses to expand across our state,” Udall said. “As a member of the Senate Commerce and Appropriations committees, I’m proud to support these investments in New Mexico’s communities, and I’ll continue fighting for resources to strengthen New Mexico’s infrastructure.”

“Modernizing our transportation system is critical to long-term economic growth in our communities and spurs job creation,” Heinrich said. “Federal investments to construct a new airport in Indian Country will support commerce, travel, and attract new business. The transportation and the aviation industries in New Mexico are major economic drivers for the state, and I will work to ensure they continue to thrive.”

The projects funded by the FAA grants are:

– Pueblo of Zuni — $3,106,720 to construct a new airport at Pueblo of Zuni. This project will fund the paving of Runway 06/24 for the replacement airport, lighting installation, and navigational aids.
– Truth or Consequences — $490,500 for the Truth Or Consequences Municipal Airport to rehabilitate 7,202 feet for Runway 13/31 and remove objects that do not belong on the runway, such as rocks, pavement fragments, and aircraft parts. This project will also rehabilitate 1,000 feet of the existing Taxiway B and 7,400 square yards of the existing general aviation apron to maintain structural integrity of the pavements.
– Moriarty — $360,000 for the Moriarty Airport to rehabilitate the lighting system of Runway 08/26 which would enhance safe airfield operations during low visibility conditions.
– Carrizozo — $327,463 for the Carrizozo Municipal Airport to rehabilitate 1,100 feet of the existing taxiway needed to maintain structural integrity of the pavement.
– Hobbs — $254,884 for the Lea County Regional Airport to rehabilitate 7,398 feet of Runway 3/21 and remove objects that do not belong on the runway, such as rocks, pavement fragments, and aircraft parts.
– Las Cruces — $244,906 for the Las Cruces International Airport to fund a new Runway 8/26 vertical/visual guidance system and make the airport more accessible to pilots by providing improved approaches to the runway ends.
– Lordsburg — $240,000 for the Lordsburg Municipal Airport to rehabilitate 5,011 feet of Runway 12/30 and remove objects that do not belong on the runway, such as rocks, pavement fragments, and aircraft parts.
– Ruidoso — $210,000 for the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport to purchase a power-sweeper to remove objects that do not belong on the runway, such as rocks, pavement fragments, and aircraft parts.
– Carlsbad — $205,658 for the Cavern City Air Terminal Airport to purchase a new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicle to assist the airport in meeting the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety requirements.
– Carlsbad — $130,000 for the Cavern City Air Terminal Airport to install a 1,700-foot wildlife perimeter fence to prevent wildlife from entering the runway.
– Springer –– $114,641 for the Springer Municipal Airport to install a 13,100-foot wildlife perimeter fence and to purchase two acres of land for future airport development.
– Vaughn — $97,324 for the Vaughn Municipal Airport to rehabilitate 11,500 square yards of the existing apron to maintain structural integrity of the pavement. This project will also fund crack sealing and seal coating to rehabilitate 1,800 feet of the existing taxiway runway.
– Hatch — $96,525 for the Hatch Municipal Airport to update the airport master plan narrative report and layout a plan to address key issues, objectives, and goals pertinent to the airport’s future development.
– Farmington — $93,750 for the Four Corners Regional Airport to purchase 0.58 acres of land adjacent to the existing airport property for future eligible Airport Improvement Program development.
– Española — $93,917 for the Ohkay Owingeh Airport to fund an airport master plan to address key issues, objectives, and goals pertinent to the airport’s future development.
– Silver City — $91,000 for the Grant County Airport to rehabilitate 6,802 feet of Runway 8/26 and remove objects that do not belong on the runway, such as rocks, pavement fragments, and aircraft parts.

Senator Heinrich Votes To Overhaul No Child Left Behind, Expand High-Quality Education For New Mexico Students

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has voted to pass S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and overhaul the country’s current K-12 education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill passed the senate by a vote of 81 to 17.

Under NCLB, accountability was centered on test scores, which pressured schools, teachers, and students to focus more on testing than instruction. NCLB set a high bar for student achievement, but never followed through with the resources and support necessary to achieve those goals.  When schools failed, it mandated a one-size-fits-all approach for struggling schools that ignored the unique needs of local communities.

“The proliferation of high-stakes standardized testing has left our students with too little instruction time and has been devastating to teacher morale. The legislation passed today eliminates the one-size-fits-all provisions of No Child Left Behind and instead allows states, parents, and teachers to work together to develop local accountability systems based on the needs of their communities and ensure that schools are held accountable by multiple measures of success, not just an annual exam,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I am proud that many of the priorities important to New Mexicans are included in the bill, including programs for English learners and Native students, and making priority investments in preschool instruction and science, technology, engineering, and math. One of the founding tenants of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is ensuring equal education no matter your school district or zip code. And I believe this bipartisan bill embodies that principle. Investments in our youth will yield tremendous dividends both inside and outside the classroom and prepare our students for a 21st century economy that requires 21st century skill sets.”

To ensure that state assessments and accountability plans are developed with parent, educator and stakeholder input, Senator Heinrich included a provision to require state accountability plans to have a comment period. During a 30-day public comment period, every New Mexican would have an opportunity to view and weigh in on the state’s education plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Education for approval.  In addition, states must provide assurances that those comments were taken into account in the development of the state plan.

Senator Heinrich also included provisions in the ECAA to strengthen programs for English learners by allowing teachers and advocates to better measure what happens to English learners after they no longer need language acquisition assistance. Senator Heinrich’s provision provides four years of data so their academic success can continue to be monitored after students test proficient in English. There are currently more than 50,000 students in New Mexico participating in programs for English learners.

Senator Heinrich also supported the following ECAA provisions:

Programs for Native American Students — improves education in tribal communities by creating a new grant initiative to establish or expand Native language immersion programs under the U.S. Department of Education and includes provisions requiring every state to consult with tribes in the development of their Title I state education plans. School districts that serve Native American students will need to consult with tribes in the development of plans for many federal education programs.  The bill also includes a new program to build the capacity of tribal educational agencies to manage and design federal education programs.

Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely (SMART) Act — allows participating states to audit their testing systems to reduce redundancies in testing and increase instruction time.  It also eliminates unnecessary assessments, design more sensible systems that align with standards. State-and district-required assessments take up most of a student’s testing time. Often, these tests are reported to be redundant, of low quality, and unnecessary.

Multiple Measures of Success — allows states to include other measures of student and school performances in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance. States will also be required to include graduation rates, one measure of postsecondary education or workforce readiness, and English proficiency for English learners in their accountability systems.

Early Childhood Education — expands access to high-quality early childhood education through Preschool Development Grants, which allow states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access. Early-learning programs can strengthen a child’s foundation enabling them to start their K-12 education on a strong footing.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics  Achievement — authorizes formula grants to improve classroom instruction, enhance student engagement, and increase student achievement in STEM subjects. In addition to improving classroom instruction, these grants can also be used to increasing student access to high-quality afterschool programs that partner with professionals and researchers in STEM fields.

21st Century Community Learning Centers — supports afterschool and extended learning opportunities for low-income students. 21st Century Community Learning Centers offer students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs.

Redesign Teacher Evaluations — allows, but not requires, states and school districts to design their own teacher evaluation systems, if they wish to do so. Much of the pressure around high-stakes testing has centered on the requirement that teacher evaluation systems be based in part on student test scores as a condition for a state receiving a NCLB waiver. ECAA has no such requirement for teacher evaluation systems. If states would like to use federal funding to design teacher evaluation systems, these systems must be based on multiple measures beyond test scores – reducing the pressure on one high-stakes test as a measure of teacher quality.

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