The state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would, if enacted, make grants available to rural healthcare facilities to expand or create new services by a vote of 28-to-8. SB 7, Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, sponsored by state Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos, aims to establish a grant program for rural healthcare services, operated by the New Mexico Department of Human Services. Healthcare facilities in 28 of the state’s 33 counties would be eligible. The grants would be for one and no more than five years of operation. The grant money would cover operating losses and the grantee would be required to provide verifiable claims and cost data, Stefanics said.
A bill that provides grant funding to expand healthcare services in rural communities passed the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on an 8-to-1 vote. SB 7, Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, is sponsored by state Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos. Stefanics said bill is to enable rural healthcare providers the ability to expand new services as a way to try to improve health care deserts in rural communities. The New Mexico Department of Human Services would administer the program and provide grants to healthcare facilities that want to expand care but cannot due to the costs associated with doing so. HSD Acting Secretary Kari Armijo said that while HSD would provide grants based on anticipated projected losses, the department would do a “back end reconciliation” to ensure that the department did not provide too large a grant.
The state Senate passed a bill on Monday that would require the state’s consent to storage of nuclear waste and would require a federal depository to be operating prior to storage of high level nuclear waste in New Mexico. SB 53 is sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. It comes in response to efforts by Holtec International to construct a temporary storage facility near Carlsbad where nuclear waste from power plants across the country could be kept until a permanent federal depository could be established. The bill passed on a 21-13 vote.
But some people have concerns that New Mexico could become the de facto storage location of nuclear waste and a permanent repository will never be established. Those were among the concerns that Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, expressed during the debate on the Senate floor.
A routine budget bill to pay staff salaries and fund other operations of a legislative session usually sails through both chambers of the Legislature when lawmakers reconvene in Santa Fe every year. Not this year, though. The so-called feed bill, the first piece of legislation considered by both chambers, continued to sow division between Republicans and Democrats on Thursday over a $2.5 million special appropriation to fund a study on the feasibility of creating district offices for legislators with full-time staff. As it currently stands, New Mexico is one of only two states without full-time staff assigned to each legislator. Nevada is the other. Several Republicans said they aren’t opposed to the concept of having staffed offices in each of their districts, part of a larger effort to modernize the Legislature.
In the past seven months, oil and gas companies have dramatically stepped up their outreach and public relations spending at some of New Mexico’s best-known, best-loved events. The industry also picked up an additional public relations bump from the not unexpected news that oil and gas revenues will add an additional $2.5 billion to next year’s state government budget. This record breaking funding comes on the heels of last year’s record breaking budget, both of them courtesy of record breaking oil and gas production and record breaking oil and gas prices. All of this money sloshing around the state raises the positive public profile of the petroleum industry. Meanwhile, the public sees little of its state Legislature — but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy.
A bill clearly aimed at blocking Holtec International from building an underground storage site for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico is moving forward. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill that would ban the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel in the state — and would essentially kill Holtec’s plans to build a repository for this high-level radioactive waste in the Carlsbad area. It now will go to the House Judiciary Committee. A key point in the debate was whether the state has the authority to stop the federal government from approving what’s described as an interim storage site to keep the material until a permanent place is created. Some lawmakers and regulators who back House Bill 127 say although the state can’t interfere with how the commission regulates the waste, it can block storage sites that could cause adverse environmental impacts.
The Senate Finance Committee tabled a bill request to spend $335 million of the $1.1 billion in America Rescue Plan Act money to the state on public health issues on a 6 to 1 vote, but committee members advised the bill sponsors to bring the bill back to the regular session. Sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the bill, SB 9, would establish a school of public health at the University of New Mexico by appropriating $50 million to the UNM Board of Regents to build a school of public health facility at the UNM Health Sciences Center on campus. State Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, who is a co-sponsor, said a “center of excellence” school of public health would attract top researchers who would bring grant money with them and that, with student enrollment, would largely enable the school to pay for itself. Other money would go to pay for equipment to help with cancer treatment; expand behavioral health services statewide, expand nursing faculty and pay for the salaries and operational budget of the projected school of public health. An additional $10 million would go to the Department of Health to work with UNM on providing obstetric care in Las Vegas and Gallup.
During a two-hour Senate Finance Committee hearing on HB 2, the committee learned of issues with the bill that will likely require change to the legislation. Department of Game and Fish Director, Michael Sloane, told the committee during the hearing that the department did not request the $5 million appropriated in the bill for property acquisition. He said the department is not currently considering any property acquisition projects. This led to concern among some committee members who brought up Bar L Ranch in Sandoval County, that the money was appropriated for that purchase but Sloane said any talk about the state purchasing that land was premature. Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, clarified how the appropriation happened by saying that the Legislative Finance Committee had reached out to the department but, he said, didn’t hear back.
Legislation to reform hunting regulations and wildlife management in New Mexico stalled in the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday. Senate Bill 312 appears doomed for this session after members tied 4-4 on a vote to reconsider debate and vote on the legislation in the absence of Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves on the committee.
A vote earlier in the week also resulted in a tie. “Right now it just seems like there is a stalemate in the committee,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, a Cerrillos Democrat who chairs the committee. Currently, 84 percent of hunting tags go to residents, 10 percent are set aside for outfitters and 6 percent go to nonresidents. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both Las Cruces Democrats, 90 percent would be reserved for residents and the rest for out-of-state hunters with none for outfitters.
Legislation that supporters say would modernize wildlife management in New Mexico but opponents counter would hurt outfitters who operate on public lands has stalled on a tie vote in a Senate committee. “My district is parts of six counties — it is all rural — and I, in this case, I’m going to have to support my constituents,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told other members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday before joining with three Republicans to table the 241-page bill. Senate Bill 312 is now stuck in the committee with just over three weeks left in the session. Some lawmakers struggled over whether or not to support the measure, which included changes they supported wholeheartedly but others that gave them pause. “I hate bills like this,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.