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Bill would broaden rules for reporting suspected child abuse

Attorney General Hector Balderas listens as Nallely Hernandez discusses a bill that would broaden the state law regarding what types of abuse are required to be reported to investigators. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Many New Mexicans assume that a teacher, principal or doctor is legally required to report all suspected child abuse to police.

But New Mexico law requires reporting only abuse suffered at the hands of a child’s parent or guardian.

That allowed Santa Fe Public Schools to avoid civil penalties in 2014 for not reporting to police a teacher who administrators believed had molested some children. The teacher went on to work at another New Mexico school district, where he is alleged by several other students to have molested them. A criminal case against that teacher, Gary Gregor, is pending.

A bill put before legislators Thursday would change the state’s mandatory reporting law to include all child abuse – no matter who the perpetrator is.

Pushing for the bill is Nallely Hernandez, a former student in one of Gregor’s fourth-grade classes. Now 20, Hernandez has settled a civil lawsuit against Gregor regarding abuse.

She has written to Gov. Susana Martinez asking for her support, and she is speaking out in support of the bill, along with state Attorney General Hector Balderas, with hope that it will close what they call a loophole.

“It would be a shame if (legislators) did nothing about it,” Hernandez said of closing the loophole. “If they truly want to help, this is their chance to do it.”

Senate Bill 87 was filed by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, but the bill wasn’t added to the session agenda by Martinez until Thursday, about half way through this year’s short, budget-focused 30-day session.

Balderas, a Democrat, said he hopes the bill works its way through the Legislature to address the underreporting of child abuse.

The current law says everyone – especially doctors, police, judges, nurses, teachers, school officials, social workers and clergy – is required report all types of abuse by parents/guardians to police of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department or to police. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor crime.

The proposed new law would keep those provisions but add required reporting of all types of abuse “inflicted or caused by any person.” Failure to report would continue to be a misdemeanor crime.

Gregor, 61, has been the subject of civil suits (plural) alleging Santa Fe Public Schools knew he was threat but gave him a “neutral’ reference, which helped lead to his subsequent hiring in Española. Gregor now faces criminal counts for allegedly abusing girls in both school districts. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Española school district has already paid out millions of dollars to settle two suits over Gregor.