Lunch shaming’ law, 80 others take effect today

By Dan Mckay / Journal Capitol Bureau

SANTA FE – Starting today, students in New Mexico will enjoy new legal protections ensuring they can get a meal in the lunchroom even if their parents haven’t paid the bill.

And school districts will face new limits on physically restraining students.

Those laws are among more than 80 that take effect today after passing the Legislature this year in the 60-day regular session.

The new laws touch on drug overdoses, improving high-speed internet access and dozens of other topics.

At least two pieces of legislation, supporters say, are the first of their kind in the country.

The “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act,” for example, has generated interest across the nation, and a similar bill has been introduced in Congress.

The New Mexico measure – Senate Bill 374, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla and Sen. Linda Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque – prohibits schools from publicly identifying or stigmatizing students with unpaid cafeteria bills. Schools are also required to serve a meal meeting federal standards to any student who asks, regardless of ability to pay, unless a parent wants the meal withheld.

The law, Padilla said, allows students to “focus on their studies rather than their stomachs.”

Also described as the first of its kind is a law aimed at addressing New Mexico’s high rate of opioid overdose deaths.

The law, House Bill 370, calls for making naloxone – a medicine that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses – more widely available. Law enforcement officers must now carry it, for example, contingent on their agencies’ having enough funding and medicine available.

“Everything we can do to save a life we need to embrace,” Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, said in an interview.

The legislation had bipartisan sponsors – Maestas Barnes; Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences; and Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo.

Not every bill passed by lawmakers this year goes into effect today: Some have specific start dates written into them, for example. But today is the effective date – 90 days after the session ended – for most legislation.

Among the bills taking effect today are measures that:

• Limit the use of physical restraint and isolation on students. Schools may use physical restraint or seclusion only if the student’s behavior is a serious physical danger to someone else and if less-restrictive measures aren’t likely to help.

House Bill 75 was sponsored by Reps. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque.

• Ban the use of therapy aimed at changing a young person’s sexual orientation. Senate Bill 121 was sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria and Rep. G. Andres Romero, both Albuquerque Democrats.

• Aim to expand access to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas. A variety of bills address that topic.