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.

New Mexico Civil Rights Act passes House

The bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense for police officers who infringe on a victim’s civil rights passed the House of Representatives Tuesday. HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed 39 to 29 after a three-hour debate on the House floor. The bill sponsor, Democrat Georgene Louis, of Albuquerque and Acoma, said the bill has been amended as it made its way through the legislative process to address some concerns of those opposed to the bill. The bill does two things. It allows individuals in the state whose civil rights have been violated to sue a governmental body, whether municipality, county or the state, in state district court for monetary damages up to $2 million.

House committee OKs health insurance premium tax hike

The state House of Representatives is set to consider legislation that would create a fund to help offset the costs of health insurance premiums for lower-income people who purchase individual policies through New Mexico’s Obama-era insurance exchange. Proponents of House Bill 122 — which passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on a 7-2 vote Wednesday — say it will widen access to coverage for self-employed workers and others who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but struggle to pay premiums on their own. Opponents argue, however, the measure ultimately would shift the costs to small businesses and their employees, who would see their own health insurance rates rise to cover a higher tax on their provider. HB 122, sponsored by Reps. Deborah Armstrong and Javier Martinez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, would increase a current 1 percent surtax on health insurance premiums to 2.75 percent.

New Mexico bill to allow medical aid in dying clears first committee

Some say House Bill 37 would allow “death with dignity.” Others refer to the practice as doctor-assisted suicide. The controversial measure, which would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, has failed in previous legislative sessions in New Mexico. The 2021 version received its first committee endorsement Friday but faces some fierce opposition as its makes its way through the Legislature. Arguments on both sides of the measure touch on sensitive issues: Personal choice.

Bill to establish Health Care Affordability Fund expected during legislative session

A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.

Legislators seek to reform drug laws

New Mexico lawmakers have tried to take on drug addiction and deadly overdoses for decades. During previous years, lawmakers from both major parties attempted to address opiate epidemics in the state through both increased penalties and more progressive measures. 

This year, with not only a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor, but also a new incoming class of  more progressive Democrats in the Senate, the state could see movement on bills that would lower penalties for drug possession as well as public health minded approaches to addiction. 

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report that she plans to sponsor a bill that would allow for safe and legal places to use illegal narcotics, often referred to as safe injection sites. The idea, Armstrong said, is that people would be able to bring already obtained narcotics to a designated location where there would be medical professionals on hand to assist in the event of an overdose and provide resources for recovery. 

“It makes sense to me, for public safety, for the health and safety of the individual and a different attempt to try and get folks help,” Armstrong said. 

Armstrong, who has consistently sponsored healthcare related bills during her six years in the Legislature, said safe consumption sites would hopefully address concerns in many communities regarding used needles scattered around public areas like parks and playgrounds. But, she said, it would also address over-criminalization of substance addiction. 

“It is definitely a healthcare issue,” Armstrong said. “But it is a criminal justice reform as well, because this is a safe place with no threat of being arrested.

Bill to create fund for uninsured clears House

Sparks flew between Republicans and Democrats Sunday during a lengthy debate on a health care tax bill that supporters say would help the uninsured. Passed by the House on a vote of 41 to 25, HB 278 would create a health care fund for New Mexicans who are uninsured. The bill would replace a federal tax that Congress repealed. The state health insurance tax would result in $99.1 million to go to a new “health care affordability fund” and the remaining $25.6 million would go to the general fund. Republicans tried twice to amend the bill to exempt small business owners from the bill.

House approves state health insurance exchange changes

The House voted 44-23, along party lines, to move a bill giving the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange more autonomy in helping impoverished and uninsured residents gain access to health insurance. The bill, House Bill 100, now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

On the surface, the bill, sponsored by state Reps. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, and Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, might appear as just another administrative action in the sometimes complex world of health insurance. But Cadena and others say it is a necessary move to ensure New Mexico’s exchange survives as the Trump administration chips away at many provisions of the Affordable Care Act. 

Cadena, who argued for the bill’s passage on the House floor against several attempts to amend it by Republican lawmakers, said after its passage that it will “decouple” the state’s nonprofit Health Insurance Exchange from the federal system. “This will allow New Mexico to administer our own exchange,” she said. 

Jeffery Bustamante, chief executive officer of the exchange, also known as beWellnm, said the bill will help “protect New Mexico in the event the Trump administration does something drastic in terms of the [federal] exchange.”

Bill for uninsured passes after search for quorum

With a vote of 6-0, Democrats on the House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed a bill that advocates say would help the uninsured and the underinsured. No Republicans voted on HB 278. Committee co-chair Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, tried to go to a vote at one point but then appeared to stall. He asked Rep. Deborah Armstrong, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, to talk more about the bill. A few advocates of the bill ran out of the hearing to try to find more Democrats who could return to the hearing.

Bill to help victims of human trafficking clears committee, but future uncertain

A bill to help victims of human trafficking passed unanimously in the House Health and Human Services Committee Monday, but the bill will die this session if the Senate doesn’t add it to the budget according to advocates. HB 101, would provide  $350,000 for emergency services for victims of human trafficking. Susan Loubet, executive director for New Mexico Women’s Agenda, said the money would be used to help the victims get away from the trafficker by providing them with clothes, food and housing. Mary Ellen Garcia, with Crime Victims Reparation Commission, said the state, and the nation, is seeing rising numbers of human trafficking, creating victims of all ages. Garcia said that some believe there are 5,000 vulnerable kids in Albuquerque alone and half to two-thirds of them are already being trafficked for sex or labor.