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.
Gov. Susana Martinez is getting attention, to say the least, for her onslaught of vetoes as the legislative session nears a potentially messy end. But the tension between Martinez and state lawmakers started with her early veto of the bill to fund the operations of the Legislature during the session and the interim. It continued towards the end of January, when she vetoed a much-publicized bill to allow for industrial research of hemp. February came and went with no bills headed to Martinez’s desk. But at the end of the first week of March, she rejected a measure to allow teachers to use all of their allotted sick days without absences making a negative impact on their statewide evaluation.
After a long committee meeting and often-times emotional testimony from the public on a controversial bill to ban abortions on pregnancies of 20 or more weeks of gestation, lawmakers on the Senate Public Affairs Committee quickly tabled the legislation on a party line vote. Neither the committee chair nor vice chair—Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino or Bill O’Neill, both Democrats from Albuquerque—nor any of the three Republican members actually spoke about the issue during debate. And the three remaining Democrats—Sens. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces—kept their comments on the issue succinct before joining their other Democratic colleagues to table the bill.
Advocates and supporters of reproductive health access and rights unveiled three bills in the state Legislature they say will improve and protect access. This includes measures to preserve birth control access under the federal Affordable Care Act and allow women on the birth control pill to obtain one year’s worth of refills at a time, penalize medical providers that refuse to offer certain reproductive health services and procedures and require workplaces to make “reasonable accommodations” to employees who are pregnant. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill to expand access to birth control. At a Tuesday press conference for the bills, Armstrong said her measure is in anticipation of contraception access through the ACA “that may be on the chopping block.”
“We’re going to ensure that regardless of what they do federally, in New Mexico we take care of women and families and let them choose what’s best for them in deciding if and when and how often to have children,” Armstrong said. Her bill would guarantee patients access to any type of federally-approved contraception without “having to prove that something else doesn’t work” before obtaining the kind “most appropriate for you,” she said.
Five Democrats joined four Republicans on Monday to block a bill that would have eliminated the job of Cabinet secretary of public education and resurrected a statewide board to oversee schools in New Mexico. The Senate Rules Committee voted 9-2 to table Senate Joint Resolution 2, a proposed constitutional amendment to create a 10-member school board that in turn would hire a secretary of education. In the existing system, the governor appoints someone to run the Public Education Department. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, introduced the resolution, saying it would return power to school districts and would allow the state board to hire or fire a secretary of education at will. “If the individual [secretary] does a poor job, the state school board can take that individual out of the position,” Padilla told the committee.
Adults over 21 would be able to legally buy, possess and smoke marijuana under a bill that survived its first hearing Saturday in the state House of Representatives. The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-1 to advance the bill without a recommendation. Sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, House Bill 89 moves ahead to the House Judiciary Committee. His proposal would tax and regulate recreational marijuana, as is done in eight other states, including neighboring Colorado. It would earmark 40 percent of taxes from cannabis sales for education and designate other proceeds to government programs.
New Mexico’s two-tiered driver’s license law that Gov. Susana Martinez celebrated as a political victory has been a horror show for ordinary people, Democratic state senators said Thursday. “We are making it really hard,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Santa Fe. “Immigrants, homeless people, elders … we’re really making it difficult for people in the state.” The law gives state residents without proof of immigration status an opportunity to obtain a driving privilege card.
People who want to legally carry concealed weapons in New Mexico will still have to go through a 15-hour firearms training course, pass a background check and get a permit. A state Senate committee on Friday effectively killed a bill that would have allowed people 18 or older to carry a loaded concealed handgun without a license, provided that the person is not prohibited by law or court order from possessing or carrying a firearm. In a party-line vote, the Senate Public Affairs Committee tabled the bill by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec. Democrats on the committee didn’t like the idea of junking the training requirements or the background check for applicants. Others objected to the bill applying to those as young as 18.
Two state legislators who will try to convince fellow lawmakers and the governor to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults in New Mexico said Wednesday that they will stress the economic benefits of their idea. Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, described marijuana legalization as the best solution for the state’s ongoing budget problems.
Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said New Mexicans are spending millions of dollars on illegal marijuana, money that “goes to Mexican drug cartels.” Legalizing marijuana would keep that money — as well as what New Mexicans spend on legal cannabis in Colorado — in this state, McCamley said. Plus, he said, marijuana would generate new tax revenue. The pro-marijuana forces have more going for them than in previous years.
Five Democratic state senators banded together Tuesday to block a Republican bill aimed at prohibiting people on food stamps from buying soda pop, candy and other junk foods. The Democrats said they appreciated Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, sponsoring the bill to encourage healthy eating habits in hopes of reducing New Mexico’s high rates of obesity and diabetes. But Democrats on the Senate Public Affairs Committee still found flaws in Pirtle’s proposal. “I’m bothered by this because it’s going after our lowest-income folks,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. “I don’t support this at all because it focuses on one group of people and implies they’re wasting taxpayers’ money.”