No decision by House committee, yet, on cannabis legalization

The push for cannabis legalization by some New Mexico lawmakers continues to be a steady, yet slow, effort. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee on Saturday heard comments from members of the public as well as questions and concerns from three Republican representatives regarding cannabis legalization bills HB 12 and HB 17. But the committee did not vote on either bill and will return on Monday to consider additional amendments and decide whether one, both or neither bill will go on to the next committee. 

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe is the lead sponsor of HB 17. 

Lujan said that, while this is her first year as a legislator, she has watched the push for legalization closely. 

“One of the things that we keep getting told is, ‘Wait and see, wait and see. Let’s look at the states that have the programs in place and learn from their mistakes before we move forward with our own legislation for New Mexico,” Lujan told the committee. “I’ve watched and as this push to legalize has repeatedly stalled out, it’s been very frustrating. It’s been frustrating for many of us as we see, especially our neighboring states around us move forward with it.”

Lujan framed her legalization bill as a distilled version of previous attempts at legalization, mainly focused on protecting the state’s current medical cannabis program.

Bill to keep Native children within their community receives bipartisan support

A bill to keep Native children within their tribe or pueblo when the state separates them from their parents passed the House State Government and Indian Affairs Committee unanimously on Monday. Sponsored by state Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, HB 209 has overwhelming support from various organizations and Tribal and pueblo governments in the state. 

If it becomes law, the bill would codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was passed in the 1970s but is poorly enforced, according to experts. The bill would guide the state Children, Youth and Families Department to notify tribes and pueblos when a child removal occurs and to work with the Tribal community to place a Native child with extended family or friends or foster families within their own sovereign nation. Related: Bill to codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law an important step, say advocates

Keeping a Native child within the world of their language, culture and traditions helps with the healing process, advocates of the bill have said. “They have the potential to lose their language, culture and ties to their family.

Bill to decriminalize abortion passes House committee

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill that would decriminalize abortion by a vote of 8 to 3, including one Republican who crossed the aisle. State House Rep. Phelps Anderson, a Republican from Roswell, sided with the seven Democrats on the committee who voted yes to HB 7. Just before the bill went to vote, Anderson expressed some of his views. “Many people who have spoken to me have expressed strong opinions but I find myself saying I’m not sure one voting yes or no changes anything that is very important to me and, secondly, the issues that have been raised are not encompassed within this bill,” Anderson said. HB 7 will, if it passes the full New Mexico Legislature, repeal a law written in 1969.

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.

Prescription drug importation bill passes Senate committee

Like many low-income seniors in New Mexico, Paul Gibson said, his mother-in-law struggles to pay for her prescription drugs. “She’ll parse out her medications in ways that make no sense; that undermine her health all the time,” Gibson, co-founder of the advocacy group Retake Our Democracy, told state lawmakers Friday. “Seniors should not face those kinds of decisions.” The state is taking steps to change that. Following the Trump administration’s announcement in December of proposed federal rules that would allow states to import prescription medications from Canada, New Mexico lawmakers and health officials are pushing legislation to initiate the process of bringing in Canadian drugs.

Panel adds time frame to aid-in-dying bill

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.

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.