Bill grows medical cannabis program

More New Mexicans would qualify for medical marijuana, and the 70,000-plus patients already in the state’s medical cannabis program would have to deal with less paperwork under legislation approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. On Friday, the House passed Senate Bill 406, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, which would add more qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use and would allow patients in the program to renew their medical cannabis registry identification cards every three years instead of every year as now required. The Senate passed the bill the previous week. Also last week, the House passed Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. which also would make medical cannabis cards good for three years.

Late-night deal reached on minimum wage

The state’s lowest-paid workers are likely to get a raise of $1.50 an hour effective Jan. 1, and their wages will rise each year until 2023. After weeks of debate and disagreement over competing bills to raise the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, the Senate and House of Representatives were on course Thursday night to settle on a wage scale. A conference committee of three senators and three representatives reached an agreement in what appeared to be a well-orchestrated presentation. As late as Thursday afternoon, Democrats in the House and Senate were at odds over the minimum wage.

House passes sweeping education bill, with funding boost for adult learners

State lawmakers, facing an outcry over legislation defining “school-aged” students as those under the age of 22, voted Tuesday to provide a year of funding for programs that help adults get a high school education. The provision limiting the age of a public school student would cut off services for some older students who already have been left far behind, opponents argued, and could spell doom for schools like Gordon Bernell Charter School, which serves many students over 21 — including inmates in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque. Sen. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat from Albuquerque and a sponsor of a broad Senate education package, Senate Bill 1, proposed keeping the student age limit in place but also setting aside a year’s worth of funds for schools hit by the change. The age limit provision was just a piece of sweeping education measures in both the House and Senate that would expand a summer program for low-income elementary school students, steer more money to schools serving at-risk students and raise the minimum salaries for teachers and principals. Each chamber passed its version of the legislation Tuesday with bipartisan support, and sent the bill on to the other side.

Minimum wage bills advance, but Dems back off tipped wage increase

Democrats are backing off a proposal to phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers like restaurant waiters with a Senate committee voting Saturday to keep the separate rate in place but raise it. House Bill 31 would have eliminated the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. Employers can currently pay that rate to workers as long as those workers receive tips amounting to the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. The restaurant industry says the tipped minimum wage is key to its survival and has launched an intense lobbying campaign against proposals to abolish it. But others argue that raising or eliminating the lower tipped wage would amount to a significant boost in the base pay for many restaurant workers.

Bill lets parties choose: Open primaries or pay for them

One lawmaker wants to give political parties a choice of whether to let independent voters participate in primary elections. The option is: Let independents vote or pay for the election yourselves. Backers hope Senate Bill 418 will win over legislators wary of letting just any voter help pick their party’s nominees. If it does, the bill could also end for now a long-running debate over the role of independent voters, who are a growing segment of the electorate in New Mexico. It is one of 14 states where a voter must be affiliated with a party to cast a ballot in a primary.

In New Mexico legislative session, Senate will hold levers of power

It is the New Mexico Senate versus everybody. Yes, Democrats control every branch of New Mexico’s government again for the first time in nine years. But maybe the biggest question of the 60-day legislative session that begins at noon Tuesday is just how much that will matter when the state Senate takes up some of most contentious issues of the year, from marijuana to gun control and funding for education. There will be more than enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass some of the bills that liberals view as priorities and that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned for. But some of those same bills might lead to tight votes or no votes at all in the Senate, where moderates and conservatives still hold sway.

Despite increased acceptance, obstacles remain for legalizing recreational marijuana

A majority of New Mexico voters support legalizing recreational marijuana. And a governor who opposes the idea will leave office at the start of the year, giving hope to some supporters of the idea. But even if New Mexico’s next governor supports the legalization of recreational marijuana, a familiar obstacle would still stand in the way: the state Senate. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino has sponsored legislation to legalize recreational marijuana since 2014. He’s tried with constitutional amendments in the past, but if Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports legalization, wins office then the effort will go through regular statue.

Legislature to study Medicaid Buy-In as way to help NM insurance

Supporters of a new health care proposal say it could help reduce the state’s uninsured rate by making health insurance more affordable. It’s called Medicaid buy-in and the New Mexico House of Representatives and Senate each recently passed memorials calling on the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to look into its implementation. Medicaid buy-ins are essentially programs that allow those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid to pay premiums for a Medicaid-like program. What a New Mexico version of the program would look like isn’t yet known. That’s the point of the study, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report.

It runs in the family: Decades apart, father and son lead sanctuary efforts

Glen Thamert wears a perpetual smile and favors a hug over a handshake. The retired Lutheran minister has lived in Jemez Springs since 2001 and raised both his adult children in Albuquerque. Next month will mark 29 years since Thamert was acquitted in an Albuquerque federal courtroom after helping two women, whose lives were in danger, leave their home country of El Salvador. Thamert’s trial was part of the sanctuary movement that sprung up in the 1980s when military forces killed hundreds of thousands of people in Central and South America. Community leaders and others often use the word “altruistic” to describe him.

Ortiz y Pino

Gov. Martinez chose unnecessary cuts to Medicaid

Most of the attention on the results of the 2017 special session has focused on the dangerously thin margin between revenue and expenditures the governor’s red pencil actions left our State facing for the coming year. Projections at the time were that New Mexico would have less than one half of one percent (each percent of a $6 billion budget is $60 million) as cash reserves available if tax collections dipped or unanticipated critical spending was required. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino is a Democrat who represents the 12th state senate district. But as bad as that situation is, there is another consequence of Governor Susana Martinez’s actions which has left most legislators baffled: her deliberate rejection of at least $120 million in federal Medicaid money that would have flowed into that program if she hadn’t vetoed a sensible, thoroughly-vetted “provider fee” that the Hospital Association had voluntarily put on the table. The hospitals of the state are not nuts.