State insurance superintendent warns against ‘swift changes’ to Affordable Care Act

The State Superintendent of Insurance told the U.S. House Majority Leader that the Affordable Care Act is flawed, but still warned against drastic changes that would hurt New Mexicans. This came in a letter from Superintendent John Franchini sent to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last week. “While we agree that there are significant opportunities for improving the ACA, we caution the new administration in making any swift changes that will destabilize the market or upend the gains made to coverage for New Mexico residents,” Franchini wrote. “Importantly, tax credits and cost-sharing reductions serve a vital function in diversifying the risk pool of individuals who purchase insurance.”

The call against “swift changes” comes during a debate between Republican members of Congress and President-elect Donald Trump’s team over how quickly to repeal the ACA and whether to do so in tandem with a replacement plan. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Sen. Tom Udall.Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service cc

Udall questions nominees on climate change, financial conflicts

Sen. Tom Udall questioned two of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees about climate change and the president-elect’s financial conflicts during Senate hearings Wednesday. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Wilbur Ross is the nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. During Haley’s confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, Udall questioned her position on climate change. Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and vowed to withdraw funding for United Nations climate programs. He has also said his administration would withdraw the U.S. from commitments made last year in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Udall asked if Haley thinks the U.S. should “maintain its leadership in the Paris Agreement in order to ensure that countries abide by their climate obligations?”

Rep. Patricia A. Lundstrom, D-Gallup, speaks during a House Appropriations and Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday at the Capitol about bills to balance state government's budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

NM lawmakers move swiftly on solvency bills

For the third time in just over a year, New Mexico lawmakers have to find a way to balance the state’s checkbook and pay outstanding bills before moving ahead with new initiatives. The state Senate and House of Representatives got started on that effort Wednesday as legislators worked to balance the $6 billion general fund with transfers and cuts to finish out the current budget year, which ends June 30. On a bipartisan vote, the Senate approved and sent to the House four separate measures that should erase a projected $70 million deficit and replenish depleted reserves, partly by targeting school district cash balances and postponing spending on various projects. The House, where a key committee cleared legislation on Wednesday, is likely to vote on the plan Thursday. “There are no good choices.

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester.

Santa Fe archbishop urges lawmakers to approve funding plan for early education

Santa Fe Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester, providing an example that being on the right side of a political party is one thing but staying on the right side of the Lord can be another, urged state lawmakers Wednesday to support a controversial proposal for funding early childhood education. Wester appealed to legislators during the annual prayer breakfast to back a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use 1.5 percent of investment revenues each year from the state’s $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. This plan would provide an estimated $140 million annually for early childhood education, defined as applying to children from the prenatal stage to age 5. The archbishop said using the fund for early childhood education would boost the quality of life for young people in a state with one of the highest rates of child poverty. “We see the high crime rate, the poverty rate, the violence, the addictions — these things are all directly connected to early childhood,” Wester said.

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, takes the speaker’s chair Tuesday after being elected speaker of the house on the first day of the state legislative session at the Roundhouse.

Egolf, Dems make changes after taking control of House

Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, joins his fellow Democrats on Tuesday during a press conference after the State of the State address during the first day of the state Legislative session.

Dem response: ‘The state of our state is unacceptable’

State Sen. Joe Cervantes, giving the Senate Democrats’ response to Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State address Tuesday, set the tone for the Democratic agenda for the new legislative session, rattling off dour economic statistics and saying it’s time for the state to stop relying on the booms and busts of oil and gas revenue and focus on job creation. “The state of our state is unacceptable,” he said, succinctly summarizing his caucus’ position. Cervantes, a lawyer from Las Cruces, spoke in measured tones, saying that most governors use the opening speech of a session to say, “The state of the state is strong.” He said Martinez was to be commended for not doing that. “She could not look at any of us and tell us with a straight face that the state of our state is strong,” he said.

After being elected Speaker of the House, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, takes the oath, administered by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Egolf elected Speaker of the House, as Dems take back control of chamber

Democrats officially took back control of the state House of Representatives Tuesday when Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House by acclamation, without the need for a vote from members. Republicans put forward, in a symbolic gesture, Don Tripp, R-Socorro, as their choice for the post. Tripp declined the nomination. Egolf thanked the former speaker for his service. Tripp then received a standing ovation from those in the chamber in both parties.


Watch: Gov. Martinez’s State of the State Address

Gov. Susana Martinez will give her seventh State of the State Address today as the legislative session kicks off. It will be Martinez’s final 60-day session. Thanks to New Mexico PBS, you can watch the whole thing from home livestreaming below. The legislative session is schedule to begin at noon, with Martinez’s address coming afterward.


Proposal would lift mandatory death sentences for some animals in attacks

A wave of national outrage buffeted New Mexico last summer after state game officials tracked and killed a black bear that had attacked a marathon runner on a trail in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Although the runner believes the bear was protecting its nearby cubs, New Mexico law since the 1970s has required the killing of wild animals in such cases so the brains can be tested for rabies. Now, a proposal to be considered by the state Legislature — developed with the help of the marathoner — would amend state law to give officials more leeway in evaluating circumstances of a wild animal attack and whether an animal should be killed. House Bill 109, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, would require officials to consider certain factors before making a determination about a wild animal that has bitten or otherwise potentially exposed a person to rabies. Those factors include the animal’s species, the animal’s potential for exposure to rabies and whether the animal had exhibited symptoms of a rabies infection.