In an opinion that left no room for doubt, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Thursday that farm and ranch laborers in the state are entitled to Workers’ Compensation insurance protection and that farm and ranch owners have to cover them. And those workers are entitled to that protection even though the state Legislature has excluded them from the Workers’ Compensation law as a way to protect the agricultural industry, the court said. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted with permission. “We conclude that there is nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bear no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups,” said the opinion written by Justice Edward Chavez. “This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would bar insurance companies and employers from having to reimburse costs of workers’ medical marijuana through Worker’s Compensation. House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said in House Judiciary Committee he had a hard time voting for the bill, but did anyway. On the House floor, Gentry successfully offered an amendment that would make the bill conditional on federal law. He went on to say that he fully supports medical marijuana and what said were its benefits. “I think that medical cannabis does a great number of people a great deal of good,” Gentry said.
The House Judiciary voted along party lines on Wednesday to pass a bill that would stop the state requirement that employers reimburse costs for medical marijuana through worker’s compensation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, told the committee he was concerned that insurance companies may leave the state out of fear of being charged with breaking federal law. “That’s my greatest fear,” Crowder said. Medical cannabis is legal under state law in 23 states, including New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. Gregory Vialpando, who was at the center of a court of appeals case regarding workers compensation and medical marijuana, spoke out in opposition to the bill.
ROSWELL – In a packed gymnasium, Vanessa Tarango canvasses a crowd gathered to take advantage of public hours being held today by Consulate General of Mexico in El Paso. Tarango is a member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide immigrant rights advocacy group that’s here to recruit new members. She and half a dozen other canvassers are scattered throughout St. Peter’s Parish gym in downtown Roswell. Here, flocks of people are waiting in line for help with their immigration documents, which include green cards and consular identification cards.
New Mexico employers must compensate workers who are medical marijuana patients for the cost of the medical marijuana, according to a recent ruling from the state Court of Appeals. On Friday, June 26, the court concluded that American General Media had improperly blocked workers’ compensation for medical marijuana for one of its employees who suffered from chronic pain. The court also ruled that federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance doesn’t supersede New Mexico’s law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. The case concerned Sandra Lewis, who has suffered from chronic pain after sustaining a work-related injury in 1998. She has been enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program since 2010.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that farm and ranch workers are eligible for worker’s compensation benefits that are available to workers in other industries. The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that denying benefits to injured farm workers is unconstitutional and called the statutory exclusion of ranch and farm workers “arbitrary.”
From the decision:
We fail to see any real differences between workers who fall under the statutory definition of a farm and ranch laborer and workers who do not. We also fail to see any real differences between farm and ranch laborers and all other workers in New Mexico that would justify the exclusion. The ruling upheld a decision in the Second Judicial District Court, where a judge ruled the denial of benefits unconstitutional. In a written statement, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty praised the court’s decision and called the court’s analysis “thorough and thoughtful.”
On behalf of the center, Legal Director Gail Evans wrote, “Finally, the men and women who pick our chile, milk our cows, and continue our tradition of being an agricultural state have the same rights to health care and lost wages as other workers in our state, when they are injured doing this dangerous and important work.”