A bill aimed at requiring health insurance providers to include contraception coverage passed its first committee Wednesday morning. The House Health and Human Services Committee passed the measure 5-1. Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said she voted against the measure for only out of concern for insurance companies and any compliance issues they may have. Three lobbyists for health insurance companies opposed the bill during public comment, citing provisions that would allow individuals to get 12 months worth of contraception at once and allowing over-the-counter contraception like condoms being made available through health insurance. Lobbyist Brent Moore, one of the three lobbyists, addressed head on that two of the three were men.
Emotional and personal stories filled a legislative hearing room Friday morning before lawmakers voted on party lines to pass a bill to allow aid in dying. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of HB 171, which would allow terminally ill patients the choice to end their own lives through a lethal dose of prescribed medication. Before the vote, several lawmakers were in tears when discussing personal stories about the issue. Committee Chair Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told the committee she cared for four friends and family members as they approached death. Armstrong recounted sleeping at the foot of her friend’s bed, waking every few hours to administer pain medication.
Lorraine Mendiola told state lawmakers Monday that her son was physically assaulted while living in a bed bug-infested boarding home for people with mental illness in Las Vegas, N.M.
At another boarding home, this one in Albuquerque, her son slept in a converted garage with exposed electrical wiring, a bathroom with no door, a lack of wall insulation and no fire extinguisher or carbon monoxide detector, Mendiola said. “It’s time to recognize and address that New Mexico must take responsibility for their mentally ill citizens,” she told the House Health and Human Services Committee. “These very vulnerable individuals have been living in substandard conditions because there has been no oversight.” Mendiola appeared before the committee in support of legislation, House Bill 85, that would provide for at least minimal regulation of boarding homes. The state Department of Health, which says it doesn’t have the legal authority to oversee the homes, abolished its boarding home rules in 2000.
Michael McCamley liked to plan. It was part of his job in the U.S. Army and according to his son, state Rep. Bill McCamley of Dona Ana County, that instinct to plan for the unexpected extended to family matters, including death. In 2010, doctors diagnosed the retired lieutenant colonel with a rare, terminal disease similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. After discussing it with his family, the elder McCamley decided to fill out an advance directive stating that he was not to be kept alive artificially if and when that time came. “Everyone knew what the situation was and what his decision was,” Rep. McCamley said.
The state Department of Health was in the hot seat at an interim legislative committee meeting—despite the fact no one from the department was actually in the room. The interim Disabilities Concerns Subcommittee met with a number of people involved with the state’s medical cannabis program. The topic of discussion was the renewal and issuance of patient cards. No representative from DOH showed up, even though the department oversees the program. The committee’s vice chair, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, expressed her concern that DOH was unable to send anyone to speak about the delays many patients are seeing when applying for medical cannabis cards.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would bar insurance companies and employers from having to reimburse costs of workers’ medical marijuana through Worker’s Compensation. House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said in House Judiciary Committee he had a hard time voting for the bill, but did anyway. On the House floor, Gentry successfully offered an amendment that would make the bill conditional on federal law. He went on to say that he fully supports medical marijuana and what said were its benefits. “I think that medical cannabis does a great number of people a great deal of good,” Gentry said.
House Democrats fired more verbal shots across the aisle on Thursday. Members of the House Minority accused House Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez of pushing tough on crime bills while holding job bills sponsored by Democrats in the Rules Committee. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said that House Republicans have been too focused on increasing criminal penalties while many New Mexicans are struggling with poverty and treatment for substance abuse. “Unfortunately, House Republicans have ignored those issues entirely,” Egolf said. Egolf said in the three Republican districts with the highest poverty rates, 24 to 26 percent of constituents are struggling to live on as little as $10,000 a year.
—In an apparent protest to a memorial highlighting fair pay for women, two House Republicans left the floor during a vote on the legislation. Memorials do not enact any law, but are generally used to draw attention to a person or organization. House Memorial 39, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, declared today Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Day in honor of Lilly Ledbetter, a women’s equality activist and namesake of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. After Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, introduced the memorial in Chasey’s absence, Armstrong requested the House vote unanimously on the memorial, a common occurrence for this type of legislation. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, objected to voting unanimously and requested a roll-call vote, most likely to show who did or did not vote.
The White House rolled out a new way of dealing with opioid addiction and prescription this week with the president appearing in Charleston, West Virginia on Wednesday to discuss the efforts. The move is the latest in an ambitious set of second-term moves by the President Barack Obama. As Huffington Post reported, it downplays abstinence in favor of medication-assisted treatment, in an effort to curb the growing epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses nationwide. New Mexico has had a massive problem with opioid overdoses. A study by the New Mexico Department of Health released this summer found that overdose deaths in New Mexico reached a new high in 2014.
A bill uncontroversial on its face about payday loans became the focal point of yet another drawn-out skirmish in the House. Members of the two political parties argued pros and cons of more stringent regulations for entities that offer payday and other high-interest small loans. Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, presented HB 356, her proposal to update the state’s Small Loan Act to include additional rules for lenders who offer increasingly common tax refund anticipation checks. The bill ultimately passed on a 38-25 vote. Powdrell-Culbert said she proposed the legislation after hearing concerns expressed in committee meetings about the high interest rates charged by tax refund lenders, the majority of whom provide services to low-income people.