State budget includes $200,000 for new task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people

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Indigenous families with loved ones who have gone missing or been murdered protest in downtown Albuquerque on July 21, 2023. Credit: Bella Davis/New Mexico In Depth

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T).

The state budget awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature contains $200,000 for Attorney General Raúl Torrez to create a new task force concentrated on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

The money adds weight to the Legislature’s non-binding request that he take such action. Senate Joint Memorial 2 (SJM 2) passed on the last day of the 30-day legislative session. 

The task force’s fate now falls to Lujan Grisham and Torrez, in that sequence.

The governor could eliminate the $200,000 appropriation using her line-item authority, which would leave Torrez to decide to form the task force anyway, without funding, or ignore the state Legislature’s request. 

Torrez’s office did not respond to New Mexico In Depth’s request to comment on his plans.

The dollars are included in a special section of the budget that was added in the final days of the session. That section contains allocations by individual lawmakers. Which lawmakers provided $200,000 for the proposed task force is unknown, but will be published on the legislative website 30 days after Feb. 15, the day the session ended. 

Sponsors introduced SJM 2 — which, unlike a bill, doesn’t have the force of law — in response to Lujan Grisham’s decision last year to disband an earlier task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis, “leaving questions unanswered,” the legislation reads. 

The governor’s staff argue the previous group met its objectives and the state is now executing its numerous recommendations. Some task force members and affected families, meanwhile, believe they still had much work to do. 

Lawmakers, including two who served as policy advisors to the group, agreed. 

“There’s still a place and a role for those stakeholders to participate,” Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors, said in an interview in January. “You have to have buy-in, not just the state coming in and saying ‘we know best.’ “

The Senate and House both passed the memorial unanimously

The memorial advises the task force be made up of no more than 40 members, including tribal representatives, survivors and families, and law enforcement, who could provide legislative proposals and update a 115-page plan the defunct group delivered in 2022.

Lujan Grisham has until March 6 to take action on bills the Legislature passed, including the state budget. 

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