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 The bill would replace a federal tax that Congress repealed.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.

Gas tax bill dies in committee

A bill that would raise the state’s gasoline tax was tabled in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Monday evening and is unlikely to advance in the remaining ten days of the 30-day Legislative session. “New Mexico has the fourth lowest gas tax in the nation, and we have the third worst roads in the nation. And those two items are connected,” said bill sponsor and Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen, who represents parts of Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties. HB 173 would create a new gasoline and special fuel surtax of 10 cents per gallon, which would take effect in Fiscal Year 2021. The surtax would then increase by 5 cents per gallon annually until 2026.

Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”

Bill would shine a light on state’s water situation

What do ranchers, environmentalists, counties, scientists and state regulators have in common? They all want to know what’s happening with New Mexico’s rivers, springs, aquifers and reservoirs. The Water Data Act, which unanimously passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning, would help various agencies organize and share their water data. The bill’s sponsors include Rep. Melanie Stansbury, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, a Republican who lives in Magdalena and represents one of the most rural parts of the state. Rep. Melanie Stansbury

Environment-related bills have been moving through the Roundhouse this year, addressing issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy.

House committee advances bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

A House panel approved a bill, along party lines, that would ban the use of therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexuality or gender identity. The practice is often referred to as conversion therapy. Senate Bill 121 sponsor Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is openly gay, told the House Health and Human Services Committee a personal story about influence from those in power. He said as a child he was “blessed” to have leaders of faith in his life that engaged in conversations of personal identity. “But I also had priest when I was nine-years-old who told me that if I did not become straight, I was going to hell,” Candelaria said.

Effort to require contraceptive coverage clears committee

A bill aimed at requiring health insurance providers to include contraception coverage passed its first committee Wednesday morning. The House Health and Human Services Committee passed the measure 5-1. Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said she voted against the measure for only out of concern for insurance companies and any compliance issues they may have. Three lobbyists for health insurance companies opposed the bill during public comment, citing provisions that would allow individuals to get 12 months worth of contraception at once and allowing over-the-counter contraception like condoms being made available through health insurance. Lobbyist Brent Moore, one of the three lobbyists, addressed head on that two of the three were men.

Bill to require ‘reasonable accommodations’ for working pregnant women advances

A bill to require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers passed a state House committee on party lines Friday morning. During debate, Southwest Women’s Law Center attorney Sarah Coffey provided examples of “reasonable accommodations,” which included allowing pregnant workers to have a bottle of water at their desks, giving them more bathroom breaks and allowing them to walk around the office when needed. “We’re trying to alert women and employers that women don’t need to necessarily quit their jobs or stay home if there’s a small accommodation made to keep working,” state Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque and sponsor of the legislation, said at the hearing. Three Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Committee—state Reps. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, Gail Armstrong of Magdalena and James Townsend of Artesia—voted against the measure.

‘Aid in dying’ bill advances after emotional hearing

Emotional and personal stories filled a legislative hearing room Friday morning before lawmakers voted on party lines to pass a bill to allow aid in dying. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of HB 171, which would allow terminally ill patients the choice to end their own lives through a lethal dose of prescribed medication. Before the vote, several lawmakers were in tears when discussing personal stories about the issue. Committee Chair Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told the committee she cared for four friends and family members as they approached death. Armstrong recounted sleeping at the foot of her friend’s bed, waking every few hours to administer pain medication.