Bill to lower insurance premiums for some heads to Senate

A bill that backers have said would lower insurance premiums and provide subsidies to help individuals and small businesses with health care cost passed the House 43 to 25 Monday. HB 122, sponsored by House Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, will place a surtax on insurance companies if it passes. The tax would begin in January 2022 but the benefit would begin in January 2023, Armstrong said. The tax would create a health care affordability fund to reduce health care premiums for New Mexico residents who receive insurance through the New Mexico Health Care Exchange. 

Armstrong said it would also help small businesses that offer health insurance because an employee with a high-cost health problem, such as cancer, could raise the premiums for the rest of the  employees. But the state would be able to offer a program to small businesses that would cover the high cost of that one employee.

Senate redistricting proposal heads to the Senate floor

After a slow, bumpy and contentious start, a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission is on its way to the Senate floor. Senate Bill 15, a compromise bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and hammered out in the Senate Rules Committee less than a week ago, earned a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday. Four people — all advocates of open government and an independent redistricting commission — voiced support for the bill during the less than 10-minute hearing. No one spoke against it. None of the committee members commented on the bill or asked questions. 

The bill’s success is not totally assured.

House bill calls for a commission to reduce hunger in New Mexico

The best thing about being a farmer, said Donne Gonzales of Chamisal, is rising every morning to hear the world wake up. The 26-year-old New Mexico native loves the morning songs of the birds and the rush of water in the acequias. To her, these sounds speak to the land’s power to provide food and to a hope that someday no one will lack for food. 

“One in four children in this state goes hungry,” said Gonzales, who also works with a program training new farmers. “They are not getting the nutritional value, which leads to deficiencies and health issues and weight problems,” she added. “Then they are not healthy, not feeling good, and they cannot be paying attention in our educational system while their tummies are growling.”

Gas tax increase aims to help state’s subpar roads

New Mexico’s roadways are in terrible shape, and they’re costing the average driver $767 annually in additional vehicle operating costs, according to a new report. But motorists don’t need to read a narrative to understand the condition of New Mexico’s interstates, highways and roads. “All you have to do is hop in your vehicle and drive a couple of miles,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Thursday during a virtual news conference. “Our roads at the moment are a complete disaster, and we do need to take it seriously,” added Padilla, vice chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. The report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found 56 percent of major roads and highways in New Mexico are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding.

Community solar bill heads to the House

A bill that would allow communities to subscribe to local solar facilities passed the Senate floor Thursday. 

SB 84, sponsored by Democratic Senators Liz Stefanics of Cerrillos and Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, would direct the Public Regulation Commission to evaluate existing community solar programs and develop and adopt rules for a program in New Mexico by April 2022. Each project would be limited to producing 5 megawatts of electricity each year, and facilities would be limited to generating 100 megawatts per year, which Lopez said is about 1 percent of the total annual electricity generation in the state. 

Each project would require an anchor tenant that would subscribe to no more than 40 percent of the project’s electricity capacity, and each project would need at least 10 subscribers before construction can begin. Lopez said the bill targets low income participation. 

“Community solar is favorable to low income participants, because it typically offers them savings, no upfront costs, and no penalty to cancel the subscription to a community solar facility,” Lopez said. “Thirty percent of the annual program capacity is reserved for low income customers and low income service organizations, and the PRC will issue guidelines to ensure the low income carve out is achieved each year.” 

Lopez also highlighted the economic benefits of community solar. She pointed to a UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research study that estimated community solar could deliver some $517 million in economic benefits and would generate $2.9 million in tax revenue for the state.