Gov. Susana Martinez signed a new nurse licensing compact on Thursday, averting what one lawmaker warned would be a health care crisis by ensuring nurses with licenses from more than two dozen other states can continue practicing in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sped the bill through the Legislature in the first days of this year’s month-long session as they faced a deadline late Friday to either approve the new compact or leave dozens — potentially hundreds — of nurses with licenses from other states unable to work in New Mexico, only making worse a shortage of medical professionals around the state. “Some hospitals, as high as 70 percent of their staff are out-of-state nurses. This is critical,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong, a Democrat from Albuquerque and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, told representatives before the chamber voted 68-0 to approve the new compact without debate. After the swift vote, the measure headed to the governor, who signed it Thursday afternoon surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
The New Mexico Senate, moving to meet a tight deadline, on Wednesday approved a new nurse licensing compact to avoid what one lawmaker described as a health care crisis. But several senators raised concerns as the bill sped through the Legislature that the compact might diminish nurses’ rights by ceding too much power to an out-of-state board about licensing in the profession. The measure would allow nurses licensed in certain other states to practice in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. It cleared the Senate 39-0 and then received approval from a committee of the House of Representatives. That sets up a vote Thursday by the full, 70-member House of Representatives.
Lawmakers face a hard deadline this week to make sure that dozens or even hundreds of nurses can continue working in New Mexico. Legislators have until midnight Friday to approve a new nurse licensing compact, an update to an agreement that allows nurses licensed in other states to practice in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. Hospitals say the compact is key to recruiting in a state facing a shortage of medical professionals. Missing the deadline to join the new system would leave New Mexico with fewer nurses to care for patients, they say. Though not much usually happens during the first days of a legislative session, the high stakes amid a particularly rough flu season have forged what appears to be a bipartisan consensus that lawmakers must approve the compact and fast during their 30-day gathering that begins at noon Tuesday.