April 9, 2021

Guv signs two health-related bills that advance equity, say advocates

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two health-related bills Wednesday that will advance equity, advocates have said.

Lujan Grisham signed the Healthy Workplaces Act. 

HB 20, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Albuquerque, mandates that all private sector employers must provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave a year. Starting July 1, 2022, employees will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The fine for noncompliance is $500.

The bill sparked controversy when Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, continued a line of questioning to the Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, that some have called bullying during a Senate floor debate. The Senate recessed for nearly 30 minutes to regain composure.

Opponents argued that the bill would hurt small businesses already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates for the bill said that the state has passed relief packages to help small businesses and that the Healthy Workplaces Act has a delayed start date to give small businesses time to financially recover.

Testimony supporting the bill came from many grocery store workers who repeatedly told stories of going to work sick, including during the pandemic.

Lujan Grisham called the new law “a humane policy for workers.”

“No one should ever be compelled to come to work when they are sick. And no worker should ever feel they must choose between their health and their livelihood,” she said through a statement.

Lujan Grisham also signed SB 317, which establishes the Health Care Affordability Fund.

The fund will generate about $165 million annually through a surtax placed on insurance companies. The state surtax replaces a federal one that the U.S. Congress allowed to sunset at the start of 2021.

The fund will reduce healthcare premiums and cost-sharing for individuals who use the New Mexico Health Care Exchange.

SB 317, sponsored by state Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, prohibits copays and other cost sharing for people with insurance who seek behavioral health services. Rep. Deborah Armstrong amended the bill to include the Health Care Affordability Fund.

“By closing the coverage gap of those who don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance, tens of thousands of New Mexicans will no longer have to choose between seeing a doctor and putting food on the table. Not only is providing quality health care to all New Mexicans the right thing to do, but it decreases costs for everyone, improves public health, and strengthens all of our communities.” Armstrong said through a statement.