New Mexico cities look to divert police from 911 calls for mental health

by Joshua Bowling and Vanessa G. Sánchez, Searchlight New Mexico

It was just after 6:30 one evening last April when Las Cruces police officer Jared Cosper responded to a mental health call. The family of Amelia Baca, a 75-year-old grandmother with dementia, had called 911, saying she appeared to be off her medication and was threatening them. They needed help. Cosper, trained in crisis intervention, according to a subsequent lawsuit, arrived at the Bacas’ front door and instructed family members to step outside. Police body camera video shows Baca’s granddaughter thanking the officer and asking him to “be very careful with her.” The elderly woman — who spoke only Spanish — came to the door, a kitchen knife in each hand.

How the Legislature addressed child well being

New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom on child well being indexes, but the 2023 Legislature passed some bills that advocates say can make an impact on that low ranking. A child tax credit was included in the final omnibus tax package and it will help improve racial and gender equity, Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, told NM Political Report. HB 547, the omnibus tax bill, underwent multiple conference committees but the New Mexico Child Tax Credit survived the negotiations. It will, among other things, provide up to $600 per child annually as a child tax credit for families earning $25,000 or less a year. For households earning $25,000 to $50,000, the annual child tax credit will be $400 per child and for households earning $50,000 to $75,000, the annual child tax credit will be $200 per child if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the bill into law.

2023 legislative session a landmark one for the LGBTQ bills

The 2023 Legislature was a landmark session for LGBTQ bills, according to advocates. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, said three bills passed in the 2023 Legislature that make this past session a watershed moment for the LGBTQ community: A bill to add discrimination protections to LGBTQ residents, a bill to protect those practicing and seeking gender-affirming care and a bill to end the requirement to publicize a name change in the newspaper. Martinez said the two bills that are especially unique are the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act and the Expansion of New Mexico Act. The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act, sponsored by state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, prohibits public bodies from discriminating against individuals seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare. Hobbs and Clovis and Roosevelt and Lincoln counties have passed ordinances that both make it harder for reproductive health clinics that provide abortions  to apply for a business license and prohibit medication abortion prescriptions through the mail despite federal approval.

Only a couple of proposed constitutional amendments make it to voters

Legislators sought to start the process to change the state constitution with several pieces of legislation this year. The proposals sought to place constitutional amendments on the 2024 general election ballot. 

Only two made it through the system: HJR 5, which would extend the property tax exemption for disabled veterans, and HJR 6, which would increase property tax exemptions for honorably discharged service members. HJR 5 extends the property tax exemption, currently only available for those veterans who are 100 percent disabled and their widows or widowers to allow those that are under 100 percent disabled and their widows or widowers to qualify for the exemption. “The amount of the exemption shall be in a percentage equal to the percentage of the veteran’s disability rating determined pursuant to federal law,” the legislation states. Similarly, HJR 6 would increase the property tax exemption for honorably discharged service members and their widows or widowers from $4,000 to $10,000 with an annual adjustment based on inflation.

Lawmakers churn out rush of bills on last full day of session

By Robert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Legislature careened toward a finish late Friday, passing both key and lesser-known legislation while trying to hash out a deal on a massive tax package. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate pushed full steam ahead from mid-morning to night, working their way through dozens of bills as the deadline for legislative passage — noon Saturday — closed in. Many of the issues prioritized by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leadership this year — the budget, public education investments, water conservation initiatives and codifying a woman’s right to have an abortion — had by this point already found safe passage through both the House and the Senate. In an interview with The New Mexican on the Senate floor around 5:30 p.m., Lujan Grisham appeared in good spirits. She said she walked down to the first floor of the Roundhouse to deliver coffee to Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, after he gave her a basket of coffee when she joked she’s only allowed to drink “old Folgers” on the fourth floor.

Governor wastes no time, signs bill limiting storage of high-level nuclear waste

Just hours after the Legislature passed a bill limiting the storage of high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law. The rest of this story continues as originally written below. Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, highlighted the various nuclear projects that New Mexico has had over the decades as he urged his colleagues to pass a bill to prohibit the storage of high level nuclear waste without state consent and without a national permanent repository in place. The House voted 35-28 to pass SB 53 on Friday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk. This bill comes as a company, Holtec International, is seeking to build a temporary storage location for nuclear waste from power plants throughout the country.

Supporters, including governor, vow to bring back paid family and medical leave

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Supporters of a proposal to establish a paid family and medical leave program in New Mexico gathered Thursday in the Capitol’s Rotunda to deliver a message about its failure. They’re bringing it back next year with backing from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We have come closer to the finish line than we ever have,” said Rep. Christine Chandler, a Los Alamos Democrat who has been pushing for paid family and medical leave since taking office in 2019. “We all know in this Rotunda that transformational change is difficult, but it can happen, and it will happen,” she said. “We plan on pursuing it next year as vigorously as we did this year, and we will continue to do so until this becomes the public policy of the state of New Mexico.”

House passes compromise bill on medical malpractice payouts

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A bill brokered this week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Senate leaders from both parties — hailed as a compromise in an emotional debate over rising medical malpractice costs — passed the House of Representatives in a 63-0 vote Thursday. 

Senate Bill 523, drafted in a deal with trial lawyers and health care professionals, will cap medical malpractice payouts for independent outpatient clinics at $1 million, which they say will allow them to obtain malpractice insurance and keep their doors open. Under a law that passed in 2021, some clinics were swept into the same category as hospitals and were set to see the cap on their potential payouts in medical malpractice cases rise to $6 million by 2027 from $750,000 now. Many doctors and other medical professionals whose practices would be affected by the steep increase said they wouldn’t be able to obtain or couldn’t afford to obtain insurance with a cap that high. They warned smaller operations — including ambulatory surgical facilities, standalone emergency rooms and urgent care clinics — would have to close or move out of state to survive. They urged the Legislature to act.

Governor signs bill expanding school learning hours

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

With just a little over a day to go in the 2023 legislative session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law expanding learning time for students in the state’s public schools. House Bill 130 will mandate an increase in learning time in public schools to 1,140 hours, plus additional professional development time for teachers, while allowing districts some flexibility in when to add the hours. “With COVID and parents and so many kids struggling, it’s a challenging environment to make sure kids are getting their focus they need [in school],” Lujan Grisham said in an interview at the state Capitol Thursday. At stake is the potential for students who have fallen behind — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — to bridge learning gaps while their teachers learn new skills to do their job to help students succeed. 

Under the provisions of HB 130, teachers in elementary schools would have 60 hours of professional development programming while those in middle or high schools would have 30 hours. 

The bill lets districts decide how and when to add the extra instructional hours. 

New Mexico has long ranked near or at the bottom in national reports on the state of public education in the country. The landmark 2018 Yazzie/Martinez court ruling said New Mexico must do more to provide enough resources for at-risk student populations — impoverished children, second-language learners and special-needs students — to ensure they have an equal chance to succeed academically. 

Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, a high school teacher who introduced HB 130, said in an interview Thursday the extra learning time is “not just about opening up seat time but creating enrichment time for students to reinforce lessons they need to learn in class and providing more time within the school day for mental and social health.”

Guv signs bill protecting access to reproductive, gender-affirming care into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill to protect reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare into law on Thursday. The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act, which prohibits public bodies from discriminating against reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare, is one of two significant reproductive rights bills before the Legislature this year. This was the first to pass the Legislature and be signed into law. The other bill, the Reproductive Health Provider Protections, is currently waiting to be heard on the House floor. “New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after signing it into law.