By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican
With less than 72 hours left in the 60-day legislative session, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday designed to address concerns over looming changes to New Mexico’s medical malpractice law, which doctors and other providers have been pleading with lawmakers to resolve for weeks. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe described Senate Bill 523 as a hard-fought compromise between the New Mexico Medical Society and the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association that will allow independent clinics to obtain medical malpractice insurance. “It took everything we had over the last three weeks to get these parties to the point where they could settle,” Wirth said. “Am I frustrated that it happened in the last three days? Yeah, because it puts us in a place where we do have to expedite this,” he added.
The swift-moving bill to decriminalize abortion care heads next to the House floor after passing the House Judiciary Committee 8 to 4 Friday. HB 7, sponsored by state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, passed along party lines after a three-hour long committee meeting devoted solely to the bill. State representatives on both sides of the aisle repeatedly thanked one another for a respectful debate despite ideological differences on the issue. The arguments both for and against the bill that will, if passed, repeal a statute that banned abortion in 1969 except under very special circumstances, have remained the same throughout the process. HB 7 will not change the way abortion care is performed currently but many members of the public who are against the bill continue to express fear that medical care providers will be forced to perform abortions despite their personal moral convictions.
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.
Lawmakers looking for every possible penny of new revenue to balance the state budget moved ahead with an omnibus tax package Wednesday over the objections of hospitals and medical providers that claimed paying more to the state would harm health care in New Mexico. House Bill 202 is part of an effort to bring in revenue from the fastest-growing part of the state’s economy — physicians, hospitals and clinics, most of which now pay little or no gross receipts tax. Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said his bill equalizes the tax among the entire health care sector at just over 3 percent — and that amount is paid on just 40 percent of patient revenue. “I don’t know how you can be more fair than everyone in this profession paying the same,” he said. The measure would raise $250 million for the general fund and restore cash reserves to about 4 percent, Trujillo said.