The New Mexico Senate passed a controversial bill Monday that would allow terminally ill patients who are of sound mind to take their own lives with the aid of a physician. The bill will soon head to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign the measure into law once the state House of Representatives, which already has approved the bill, concurs with a number of amendments. “The governor has been a lifelong advocate for seniors and their independence, as well as for the importance of dignity and respect in making choices about one’s own health and treatment,” Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, wrote in an email. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, described the measure as “compassion for the suffering” and said nine other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation. “A 2020 Gallup poll indicates 74 percent of Americans support an end-of-life option,” Stefanics said at the end of a 2½-hour debate.
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.
The New Mexico Department of Health confirmed the state’s first case of measles in nearly five years. Last week, DOH said a one-year-old child from Sierra County is the first New Mexican infected with the disease since December of 2014. “We have worked with the clinic that treated the child and the patient’s family to identify people who may have been exposed so we can prevent more cases of the disease,” DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced Friday. “We encourage everyone to check whether you and your family have been vaccinated to protect against measles. Immunization is the best tool we have to protect people from measles.”
Measles is highly infectious and was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000, thanks to the development of a vaccine in the 1960s and a concerted effort by the Centers for Disease Control beginning in the late 1970s.
A bill to allow medical aid in dying is headed for a vote in the New Mexico House of Representatives after a committee of lawmakers on Wednesday tweaked the legislation, requiring a physician to be included among the two health care professionals needed to sign off on a terminally ill patient’s decision to end their life. House Bill 90 has prompted some of the most emotional discussions of the legislative session, raising issues of life, death and the government’s role in deeply personal medical decisions. The bill also has prompted several rounds of amendments by lawmakers weighing exactly how the process should work for patients seeking such a choice. Under what is known as the End of Life Options Act, a terminally ill patient who is mentally competent and has only six months to live could ask a prescribing health care provider for drugs that would allow him to end his own life. The patient would have to speak with a health care provider about alternatives, such as further treatment, and make the request in writing with witnesses.
What will remain of the Affordable Care Act in a year or two? Maybe very little, some New Mexico lawmakers worry. While Democrats in the state House of Representatives have talked a lot about expanding access to Medicaid, many are also trying to hold the line on the landmark and controversial health care law also known as Obamacare, bracing for big changes as 18 attorneys general challenge its constitutionality in federal court. House Democrats are sponsoring legislation that would write several provisions of the Affordable Care Act into New Mexico law with hopes that no matter what happens at the federal level, the state can keep in place some of the standards for covering mental health care, for example, and protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. “We’re in that group,” said state Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, a breast cancer survivor whose son has autism.
A legislative committee decided Monday that medical professionals would have to determine a patient has no more than six months to live before prescribing drugs that would help the patient end his or her own life. By tweaking the bill to give it a time frame, lawmakers who support the measure hope to add New Mexico to a short list of states that permit medical assistance in dying. Critics had raised concerns about exactly which patients would qualify under House Bill 90. It was originally written to allow medical aid in dying for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die in the foreseeable future. Other states with similar laws limit medical aid in dying to patients only expected to live for only a particular period.
Elizabeth Whitefield walked the halls of the state Capitol a couple of years ago, urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would let her choose when and how to end a long struggle with cancer. The disease, she told one committee, had stolen everything from her — the ability to work, to eat, to drink. The retired judge from Albuquerque was blunt: She expected death would be slow and painful. “Don’t let me die without dignity,” she said in pushing for legislation that would allow medical professionals to prescribe terminally ill patients lethal drugs to end their own lives. The state Senate voted down the bill.
Recreational marijuana would become legal for people 21 or older in New Mexico and the state could tax marijuana sold in licensed stores under a bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. House Bill 356 would establish a licensing system that supporters say favors small businesses and institute a 9 percent tax on marijuana for buyers who are not patients in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The revenue would go for research and education as well as community grants for workforce training, substance misuse treatment, mental health treatment, and youth drug-education and prevention programs.
Cities and counties would be allowed to opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Martínez told The New Mexican in an interview last week. He called the decades-long state and federal anti-marijuana policies a failure.
One of the less-surprising moments on Tuesday was when U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won the Democratic primary for governor. A recent Albuquerque Journal poll showed Lujan Grisham more than 40 points ahead of former television executive and son of a past New Mexico governor, Jeff Apodaca. On Tuesday night, election numbers showed Lujan Grisham with more than 60 percent of the vote against Apodaca and state Sen. Joe Cervantes. “You guys are awesome,” Lujan Grisham said to supporters Tuesday night during a victory speech in Albuquerque. In the last several weeks, the race became increasingly contentious when Apodaca’s campaign criticized Lujan Grisham’s role in a private company that manages the state’s high risk insurance pool.
Lawmakers voted to update the State Legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the first such change in a decade. The 15-0 Legislative Council vote came a day before the start of the 2018 legislative session. The council adopted the policy crafted by eight legislators who rewrote it at a time where many industries and organizations, including political institutions, are grappling with sexual harassment. The policy allows for an outside investigator to look into allegations of sexual harassment against legislators. It also calls for “outside counsel who is experienced in harassment matters” to determine in consultation with legislative leaders if a complaint merits an investigation.