DD Waiver program under investigation following reports of neglect, deaths

On Friday, the New Mexico Department of Health released an update about its unannounced health and safety wellness checks for clients receiving services from the states’ Developmental Disabilities (DD) Waiver programs. 

As of Thursday, the DOH reported it had completed 2,558 in-person unannounced wellness visits statewide for the 6,815 clients receiving DD waiver services. “These visits identified 45 incidents of alleged abuse and neglect that can range from an environmental hazard in the home, missing staff or other issues discovered by state agencies during the wellness checks. Every one of these incidents is being fully investigated,” a DOH news release states. “The number of incidents requiring investigation speaks volumes about the absolute necessity and importance of these unannounced visits,” DOH Secretary Patrick M. Allen said in the news release. “We launched these mass visits with an all-hands-on deck mentality, and these numbers demonstrate a need for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division and the Division of Health Improvement oversight.

Rep. T. Ryan Lane

House responds to tweet about House minority floor leader and his son

With the session winding down with days to go, members of both parties in the New Mexico House of Representatives spoke in solidarity with House Minority Leader Rep. T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, during a Wednesday floor session following a March 8 tweet referencing Lane’s introduction of his son on the floor. Evan Lane spent his 17th birthday at the Roundhouse being honored by his father Rep. Lane on March 8. “Now he’s a very special, special young man and I know I’m biased because I’m his father, but I want to share a bit about the transformation that he’s done in the last couple years,” Lane said. 

Evan started working out and getting into wrestling two years ago, the elder Lane said. “Growing up as a kid, (Evan was a) very sweet, young man, great personality, very funny, not very athletic, not very motivated, if I can be frank for a minute,” Lane said. “About two years ago, he decided he was going to change things in his life… he’s found a tremendous amount of self discipline, to the point where he started getting up a few times a week in the morning around 5 a.m. Wake himself up, go workout, got into wrestling and it’s been very inspirational for his mother and I to see that kind of self-motivation and self-transformation that’s taking place within him and I know it will serve him well for the rest of his life.”

ProgressNow New Mexico* Energy Policy Director Lucas Herndon was watching the floor session that morning and made a Twitter post referring to Lane’s introduction of his son on the House floor on March 8 as “toxic masculinity.”

Lane spoke to the NM Political Report about the tweet.

Legislation to modernize Legislature, expand sessions clear first committee

A House committee heard two proposals that would put constitutional amendments on the ballot that would modernize the state legislature. The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee passed HJR 2 with amendments on a 6-to-3 vote along party lines on Monday. The legislation allows bills not voted on to roll over to the next session for consideration. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, gave his reasons for voting against the bill. “I’ve been a victim of legislation dying on the Senate calendar, we all have,” Rehm said.

Early childhood education expansion could empower New Mexico women, advocates say

On August 1, New Mexico will expand early child care assistance to allow a family of four with a  nearly $93,000 yearly income eligible for assistance from the state, among other early childcare changes. Some have said the expansions to early childcare could empower women in New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky announced earlier this month that, through funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the state will expand who qualifies for early child care assistance. Micah McCoy, ECECD communications director, told NM Political Report that the income requirement for state assistance for early childcare is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equals about $53,000 a year, he said.

Insurance handout is coming, say backers of health fund bill that stalled

New Mexico legislators are giving a handout to insurance companies, say backers of a bill designed to create a fund for the uninsured. 

The bill passed the House floor 41 to 25 earlier this week but failed to make it to the Senate Finance Committee agenda by Wednesday evening. It has to go through that committee before reaching the Senate floor. The legislative session ends at noon on Thursday. Adriann Barboa, spokesperson for a coalition of nonprofits serving the vulnerable called New Mexico Together for Health Care, called  HB 278 a “one-time opportunity” for New Mexicans to get nearly everyone in the state insured. The federal government made a change to give a tax rebate to insurance companies this year.

House GOP unveil budget proposal which would divert money from Legislature’s retirement

State House Republicans unveiled a spending plan for the upcoming special legislative session that would transfer $12.5 million from the state Legislative Retirement Fund to the general fund to solve the New Mexico’s budget shortfall. Martinez announced the special session will begin Wednesday, May 24. GOP House leaders announced the plan publicly in a press release Tuesday, touting it as a solution to fix the state’s budget issues without raising taxes. “This plan covers New Mexico’s budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year and increases funding for cancer care as well as support for students working to obtain a college degree,” state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to adopt these proposals so we can resolve this budget impasse fairly and for the benefit of all New Mexicans.”

But the ranking lawmaker in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee questioned whether the Legislature could legally transfer money already invested the retirement fund.

House, Senate tensions remain high

Two press conferences on Wednesday at the midpoint of the session showed deep divides between leadership in the House and Senate haven’t gone away. A top state senator said all the House GOP tough on crime bills passed could cost between $3 million and $5 million if they become law. But John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, added that he doesn’t yet have an empirical number and his estimates were based on talks with judges and court officials. “We do know there is a cost,” Smith said in a Senate Democratic press conference Wednesday morning. Smith, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, mentioned a DWI reform bill that passed both chambers and became law years ago that was promised not to cost any extra money.

Report: NM fourth-most dangerous state in the U.S.

New Mexico is once again the fourth-most dangerous state in the country, at least according to the latest yearly survey of violent crime by 24/7 Wall Street. The annual survey from the financial news website is based mainly from violent crime rates from the FBI 2014 Uniform Crime Report, which is the most comprehensive look at crime in the nation. It will be sure to fuel the effort from New Mexico Republican legislative leadership and Gov. Susana Martinez to pass “tough on crime” bills this upcoming legislative session. Republicans this session are supporting a tougher state “three strikes” law against violent repeat offenders, adding law enforcement officers as a protected class in the state’s Human Rights Act and increasing their pay. “The data clearly shows that violent crime in New Mexico is too high, and we need to do something about it,” State Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a prepared statement from House Republicans.