By Lance Chilton
In the previous article, I gave you a numerical summary of the January 21-February 20 Legislative session, devoid of details. Here are some details, in part cribbed from constituent letters from Representatives Debbie Armstrong and Antonio “Moe” Maestas.
It’s a continual source of amazement to me that legislators address in a short time everything from the mental health needs of seniors to car licenses, horse racing, methane flares, state parks, and child abuse. It will come as no surprise to you that individual legislators have widely varying primary interests and bring different skills to committee meetings and floor debates.
Rep. Armstrong, a physical therapist, attorney, and former cabinet secretary running for her third term this year, chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, so it isn’t surprising that her constituent letter stresses health issues, and there were many in the 2020 Legislature. Both houses passed bills enabling the purchase of cheaper medications from Canada (SB 1) and to make insulin more affordable for diabetic patients (HB 292). Pharmacists who can prescribe certain medications must now be paid by insurance companies at the same rate physicians or other medical providers get for the same prescribing services (HB 42). HB 100 enabled insurance changes that make certain that Affordable Care Act provisions continue to apply to New Mexicans, no matter what happens in Washington. New Mexico insurance providers will have to pay for coronary artery calcium scans for adults at risk of heart attack (HB 126).
Rep. Maestas, running for his seventh term in 2020, is a practicing attorney and former assistant district attorney. Is the chair of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. His letter emphasizes budget achievements, especially providing more money for education and behavioral health, as well as for judicial systems. Rep. Maestas notes sadly the failure to pass the resolution (HJR 1) to take money from the state permanent fund for early childhood services, but lauds the passage of a robust budget for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department as part of the omnibus budget bill, HB 2. He mentions money for improvement of highways and district capital projects, though some of these were vetoed by Governor Luján Grisham, who cited uncertain revenues.
The two bills which attracted more attention in the halls of the Capitol this year were the so-called Red Flag Bill (Extreme Risk Protection Order, SB 5), which temporarily removes guns from the hands of those who might do harm to themselves or others, and the act to legalize recreational marijuana (HB 160 and SB 115). As you know the Red Flag Bill passed, but the state did not legalize recreational marijuana. Several former and retiring legislators were honored during the session, most with memorials passed or heartfelt speeches on the floor. But former Representative Kiki Saavedra, who died a little more than a year ago at 82, was honored with a “senior dignity fund” to establish new volunteer efforts to help senior citizens.
I continue to be impressed that almost all of our elected representatives and senators work extremely hard to do their best – by their lights – for the people of New Mexico. All 112 of the seats in the Legislature will be up for election this fall. All 112 of those elected will come to Santa Fe on January 19, 2021, ready to face another thousand or so bills, memorials, resolutions and the wishes and aspirations of thousands of their constituents. We Democrats would like to add to the Democratic majorities in each house, currently 26-16 in the Senate, 46-24 in the House.