New Mexico’s governor has recently signed into law legislation that would require state government agencies to compile reports on ways to improve their language assistance services.
While the state has recently been commended as a leader in language access services in the U.S., it appears that there is still work to be done. The recent passage of House Bill 22 (HB 22) on March 1 will allow the state to pinpoint weak spots in the state’s language access services, in an effort to continue improving them. The bill will go into effect beginning July 1.
Specifically, the bill would require major state agencies to “develop and implement a departmental plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).” This includes conducting annual assessments and reports to the governor’s office, as well as employing bilingual staff, translators, and interpreters as needed for specific language services.
HB 22 will appropriate $50,000 toward the goals outlined in the bill, while a companion bill includes an additional $110,000, according to a report from The Associated Press. According to the report, the bill was spurred by pressure from a federal court case which found that the state’s Human Services Department was lacking in adequate language access services for individuals with LEP.
The Human Services Department oversees programs such as Medicaid and SNAP benefits. In January a federal court ruled that the Human Services Department must improve its language access services — on Feb. 25, the judge outlined a number of measures the department must take, such as adding short written text in several different languages to Medicaid notices and expanding its automated phone system to include messages in different languages. The court has given the department 30 days to meet these requirements, as well as to begin collecting data on language services to identify more long-term improvements that need to be made.
HB 22 appears to be a way for the state to identify areas that need improvement before meeting the same fate as the Human Services Department. Interestingly, New Mexico’s language access services are often ranked among the best in the nation. Last year, the National Center for Access to Justice named the state’s justice system the best in the nation for its language access services.