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.

Environment advocate: ‘The Legislature has failed on climate action this year’

With just days left of the Legislative session, advocacy groups looked back at the dismal record of passing climate change-related bills this year. “The Legislature has failed on climate action this year,” Ben Shelton with Conservation Voters of New Mexico said. 

The legislative session ends at noon on Saturday. Conservation Voters of New Mexico, New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light, Naeva and Moms Clean Air Task Force/EcoMadres joined together in a press conference on Thursday to discuss the lack of climate action prior to going to the Roundhouse to deliver letters to the lawmakers urging them to pass some of the climate bills. “This legislative session has been marked by dozens of bills, millions and millions and millions of dollars appropriated to address the symptoms of climate change,” Shelton said during the press conference. Those include appropriations to help communities recover from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and efforts to address water scarcity and infrastructure.