Sen. Soules’ Lottery Scholarship Gap Bill Passed by House

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Sen. Soules’ Lottery Scholarship Gap Bill Passed by House,

Now Goes to Governor Martinez for Signature

(Santa Fe, NM) – Lottery Scholarship Grace Period legislation, SB 420, sponsored by Senator Bill Soules of Las Cruces, tonight was passed by the full New Mexico House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The bill allows students to take up to 16 months off before beginning college, and still qualify for the state Lottery Scholarship assistance.  The measure was the top priority for NMSU students.  It was passed earlier in the session by the Senate, and now goes to the Governor for signature.

“I am pleased that legislators passed this bill that is so important to the academic success of so many young people in our state.  Many students may not be ready mentally and academically to start college right after graduating high school, and we should not push them into school.  Implementing this gap provision will help many students reach their full potential, and go on to successful careers,” said Sen. Soules.

Current law requires that graduates must immediately enroll in college following high school graduation, or they lose the scholarship assistance permanently.  SB 420 would extend the period to 16 months to allow for a ‘gap year’ between high school graduation or completion of the GED and entering college.  It also extends the scholarship to students who enlist in the military and begin service within 4 months of graduation.

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New Teacher Evaluation System Passed by Bipartisan Senate

Bipartisan Senate Passes Legislation for New Teacher Evaluation System

(Santa Fe, NM) – On a strongly bipartisan basis, the New Mexico Senate today passed legislation to develop a new system for evaluating teachers and principals that relies less heavily on students’ scores on controversial standardized tests.  By a vote of 30 – 7, with both Democratic and Republican support, SB 34 was passed by the Senate.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Howie Morales of Silver City, also was amended to include language offered by Republican Senator Craig Brandt from the historic Senate override earlier in the day of the Governor’s veto of teacher sick days legislation.   It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, where companion legislation has been approved.

“I am very pleased by the growing bipartisan support for this legislation to fix our teacher evaluation in New Mexico.  We have highly effective educators who, because of the flawed evaluation, are being designated as minimally effective. We want to do the right thing by improving the way we evaluate teachers and principals.  SB 34 will create a teacher evaluation that is fair and that uses more inputs and factors to arrive at balanced evaluation of teachers’ performance.  Today we do not have a teacher evaluation in practice; the one we have in rule does not work for the people of our state.  I hope that Governor Martinez will join Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and sign this bill into law,” said Sen. Morales.

SB 34 would convene a council of 31educators from across New Mexico to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation method beginning this summer. 80% or more of the new tool will come from observation of teacher’s performance in the classroom.  20% or less would rely on student test scores and other multiple measures.  The new system would take effect in 2020.

Similar legislation sponsored by Sen. Morales in 2015 and passed by the Senate and House was vetoed by Gov. Martinez.

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Raise the Cigarette Tax to Help Classrooms and Health

Raise the Cigarette Tax to Help Classrooms and Health

March 10, 2017

By Senator Howie Morales

New Mexico has a unique opportunity today to accomplish two important goals for our state by simply raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

First, we can substantially strengthen our children’s classrooms, which have been hit with cuts worth tens of millions of dollars since 2008. Second, we can make sure that more than 11,000 additional kids never even become smokers, and more than 10,000 current adult smokers will quit, significantly lowering overall health costs.

We cannot afford not to do it.

My legislation, SB 231, would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack, with an equivalent increase in other tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.66 to $3.16. It would produce new revenues of $89 million annually for our state.

I believe strongly the additional funds should be targeted to backfill the deep funding cuts our public schools have weathered during recent years, to strengthen classroom budgets and improve outcomes for students. My bill earmarks all the proceeds of the new tax for the state equalization guarantee, or formula distribution, for all our public schools.

Why? Our K-12 classrooms need the money that a cigarette tax boost would bring. Depending on the outcome of other bills in the Legislature, public schools may be facing another steep funding crisis later this year. Governor Susana Martinez has vowed to veto many other measures that have been proposed to help schools’ bottom line.

What can New Mexico expect without an infusion of new revenues for our schools? Larger class sizes, fewer teachers, fewer counselors, and reduced classes in physical education, music, dance and art all lie ahead if the experience of other states is any guide. Elsewhere, all-day kindergarten and summer classes have been cut, and even school weeks have been reduced to four days. Surely, we cannot allow this to happen here.

Without new revenues, our public schools may see cuts of 5-7 percent across the board. This would have a devastating impact. We are submitting proposals now to make sure this does not happen. But Governor Martinez continues to stand by her campaign promise to oppose all options required for a responsible balanced budget.

Raising the tax on tobacco also has been proven to stop kids from smoking before they start. Most smokers begin smoking before they turn 19. A $1.50 per pack increase in New Mexico’s cigarette tax means there will be thousands of fewer smokers in the future, including those who are taking up the increasingly popular e-cigarettes.

Smoking costs New Mexico $844 million in direct health care and Medicaid treatment, and it results in countless deaths, diseases and cancers. Making smoking more expensive would save the lives of more than 7,000 New Mexicans.

Eighty-one percent of New Mexicans think it a good idea to impose a higher excise tax on cigarettes and tobacco. This tax enjoys overwhelming support.

SB 231 is endorsed by education advocates and all the leading health organizations, including the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society Action Network. In the House of Representatives, HB 282, sponsored by Rep. Liz Thompson, will accomplish the same goals.

When cigarette and tobacco use declines, lives and money are saved. Raising the tax on tobacco sharply reduces the number of kids and adults who smoke. Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in our state.

The benefits for the health and especially for the classrooms of New Mexico are enormous if we raise the cigarette tax by $1.50. This legislation cannot wait.

Howie Morales, a Democrat, represents District 28 in the New Mexico Senate and is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

[This piece was published by NMPolitics.net at http://nmpolitics.net/index/2017/03/raise-the-cigarette-tax-to-help-classrooms-and-health/]

Lower drug prices would help N.M. taxpayers

Lower drug prices would help N.M. taxpayers

March 13, 2017

By Senator Jeff Steinborn

As New Mexico struggles to cope with declining tax revenues and cuts to classrooms and health care, it is imperative for legislators to find new ways improve the state’s bottom line. That is why it is time to enact innovative policies to rein in the soaring cost of prescription drugs. It places a growing burden on our state budget each passing year.

With its enormous buying power, New Mexico should be more vigorously negotiating pharmaceutical drug prices to lower taxpayers’ expense, and to free up resources for cash-strapped public education and other essential services. Senate Bill 354, creating an Interagency Pharmaceutical Purchasing Council, will make it happen.

The bill, if implemented, could save New Mexico up to $100 million per year in prescription drug costs, according to Dr. Martin Hickey, CEO of New Mexico Health Connections, the state’s largest nonprofit health plan.

The state, along with publicly funded health care institutions and retiree health plans, is a major purchaser of prescription drugs. Together they spent more than $670 million on prescription drugs in 2016, a staggering 54 percent increase from just two years prior. Spending on prescription drugs now accounts for a large — and the fastest-growing — part of our state’s health care budget. It could grow to a crippling portion in a few years if we do not act.

My bill would require we leverage the combined purchasing power of taxpayer-funded health agencies in New Mexico, including Medicaid, the departments of Health, Human Services, Corrections, retired state government workers’ benefits, University of New Mexico Hospital and other public health organizations to drive hard bargains with pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for lower drug prices.

Using state buying power and bulk purchasing to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs works. Some states are using this strategy on their own to save millions for their budgets. Other states have joined together in multistate cooperatives to create even larger purchasing pools and larger savings. It is long overdue for New Mexico to take a hard look at these successful strategies.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs negotiates for its drug purchases. It pays 40 percent to 50 percent less on average for the same drugs purchased by Medicare, for example. Bulk purchasing of critical pharmaceuticals in the form of vaccines for children is used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It extracts steep discounts from manufacturers and distributes the vaccines at no cost.

The pharmaceutical industry opposes state government price negotiation, because it hits its profits. We have seen the price-gouging practices of some manufacturers, as in the case of EpiPen injections devices. The industry makes billions in profits. The industry is the nation’s most profitable, in fact, with margins several times the average Fortune 500 companies. To address this unfair economic equation, the state must begin to bargain in earnest directly with the manufacturers, using its size and market share to get the best possible price from manufacturers on the prescription drugs it purchases.

Prescription drugs are valuable tools for health care and in protection and treatment of disease in our state. Spiraling costs and spending on pharmaceuticals is crowding out other key priorities in the state budget. We need new and effective approaches to get dramatically lower prices now. It can be done. That is exactly what will happen if we enact SB 354.

The bipartisan Senate passed this bill unanimously. We urge the House of Representatives to do the same, and the governor to sign it into law.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Democrat, represents Las Cruces, District 36.

[This piece was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/reader-view-lower-drug-prices-would-help-n-m-taxpayers/article_8b099c23-418e-5fc2-b8a9-b3ff38137ca3.html]

Senate Passes Bill with Bipartisan Support to Help Firefighters with PTSD

Senate Passes Bill with Bipartisan Support to Help Firefighters with PTSD

(Santa Fe, NM) – With strong bipartisan agreement, the New Mexico Senate today passed legislation, HB 157, by a vote of 25 – 11 to add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the existing Fire Fighter Occupational Disease Act.  Several diseases, such as cancers, hepatitis and tuberculosis, already are presumed to be proximately caused by employment as a firefighter. The addition of PTSD to the list is a key health care goal of firefighters and paramedic firefighters across the state.  The bill now goes to the Governor.

“Firefighters make tremendous sacrifices to protect the lives and property of New Mexicans every day.  It is imperative that we ensure our firefighters have access to effective treatment for PTSD and protect New Mexico’s investment in these brave men and women.  HB 157 is life-saving legislation, and I am proud of the bipartisan support for our firefighters and paramedics,” said Senator Michael Padilla (D-14-Bernalillo), sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Access to preventative treatment can mitigate the onset of PTSD, which may be caused by exposure to chronic stress often experienced by firefighters. Coverage contained in HB 157 can lead to firefighters leading healthier lives, prolong their careers, and will be less likely to need workers’ compensation benefits in the future.

Firefighters experience PTSD at rates similar to military personnel.  About 20% of firefighters may be diagnosed as having PTSD, compared to just 3.5% of the general population.  Untreated PTSD can lead to depression, familial dysfunction and suicide.

HB 157 is supported by the New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association, Albuquerque Area Fire Fighters Local 244, Albuquerque Lodge #1 Fraternal Order of Police, County of Bernalillo, Farmington Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 2850, Santa Fe County Firefighters IAFF Local 4366, Santa Fe Professional Firefighters Association Local 2059, Las Cruces Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 2362, Raton Firefighters Local 2378, Rio Rancho Firefighters Association IAFF Local 4877, Rio Rancho Fire Rescue, and others.

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Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla (D-14 Bernalillo) Passes Hunger Free Student Bill of Rights

New Mexico Senate Democrats

For Immediate Release: March 9, 2017

Contact: Zach Marcus (505) 986-4882 Zachary.Marcus@nmlegis.gov

Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla (D-14 Bernalillo) Passes Hunger Free Student Bill of Rights

(Santa Fe, NM) Today the Senate passed Senator Michael Padilla’s bill to ensure that New Mexico students do not go hungry even if their family is unable to pay for a school provided meal.

Senate Bill 374 will require schools that provide USDA meals to give lunches to students regardless of whether the student has money to pay for a meal or owes money for previous meals. There have been documented cases of hungry students receiving food in the lunch line and having that lunch taken away and thrown in the trash because of a debt owed by their parents.

“If students are hungry they can’t learn effectively.  We can’t let a single student fall through the cracks because they are less concerned with their multiplication tables than they are about where their next meal will come from,” said Senator Padilla.

“New Mexico is a state with immense natural resources that’s been overrun by poverty. One of those resources we risk losing is our young people if they can’t concentrate in school because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We need to make sure our schools are part of the solution,” Senator Padilla continued.

Previously, Senate Bill 374 passed the Education and Public Affairs committee with bipartisan support and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

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Op Ed: Raise the Cigarette Tax Now to Help NM Classrooms and Health

Opinion Editorial

Raise the Cigarette Tax Now to Help NM Classrooms and Health

By Senator Howie Morales (D – 28 – Catron, Grant, Socorro).

New Mexico has a unique opportunity today to accomplish two important goals for our state by simply raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. First, we can substantially strengthen our children’s classrooms, which have been hit with cuts worth tens of millions of dollars since 2008.  Second, we can make sure that more than 11,000 additional kids never even become smokers, and more than 10,000 current adult smokers will quit, significantly lowering overall health costs.  We cannot afford not to do it.

My legislation, SB 231, would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack, with an equivalent increase in other tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.66 to $3.16.  It will produce new revenues of $89 million annually for our state.

I believe strongly the  additional funds should be targeted to backfill the deep funding cuts our public schools have weathered during recent years, to strengthen classroom’s budgets and improve outcomes for students. My bill earmarks all the proceeds of the new tax for the state equalization guarantee, or formula distribution, for all our public schools.

Why?  Our K-12 classrooms need the money that a cigarette tax boost would bring.  Depending on the outcome of other bills in the legislature, public schools may be facing another steep funding crisis later this year.  Governor Susana Martinez has vowed to veto many other measures that have been proposed to help schools’ bottom line.

What can New Mexico expect without an infusion of new revenues for our schools? Larger class sizes, fewer teachers, fewer counselors, and reduced classes in physical education, music, dance and art all lie ahead, if the experience of other states is any guide.  Elsewhere, all-day kindergarten and summer classes have been cut, and even school weeks have been reduced to four days.  Surely, we cannot allow this to happen here.

Without new revenues, our public schools may see cuts of 5% to 7% across the board. This would have a devastating impact.  We are submitting proposals now to make sure this does not happen.  But Governor Martinez continues to stand by her campaign promise to oppose all options required for a responsible balanced budget.

Raising the tax on tobacco also has been proven to stop kids from smoking before they start.  Most smokers begin smoking before they turn 19.  A $1.50 per pack increase in New Mexico’s cigarette tax means there will be thousands of fewer smokers in the future, including those who are taking up the increasingly popular e-cigarettes.

Smoking costs New Mexico $844 million in direct health care and Medicaid treatment, and it results in countless deaths, diseases and cancers.  Making smoking more expensive would save the lives of more than 7,000 New Mexicans.

81% of New Mexicans think it a good idea to impose a higher excise tax on cigarettes and tobacco.  This tax enjoys overwhelming support.

SB 231 is endorsed by education advocates and all the leading health organizations, including the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society Action Network.  In the House of Representatives, HB 282, sponsored by Rep. Liz Thompson, will accomplish the same goals.

When cigarette and tobacco use declines, lives and money are saved.  Raising the tax on tobacco sharply reduces the number of kids and adults who smoke.  Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in our state.

The benefits for the health and especially for the classrooms of New Mexico are enormous if we raise the cigarette tax by $1.50.   This legislation cannot wait.

Sen. Morales is a member of the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee.

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Bill to Increase Funding for Classrooms Passed by Key Senate Committee, $1.50 Cigarette Tax Will Pump $89 Million into Strapped Public Schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bill to Increase Funding for Classrooms Passed by Key Senate Committee in Bipartisan Vote

$1.50 Cigarette Tax Will Pump $89 Million into Strapped Public Schools

(Santa Fe, NM) – The Senate Finance Committee tonight voted to advance with bipartisan agreement legislation that would give public school classrooms a significant funding increase of more than $89 million per year by increasing the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50.  SB 231, sponsored by Senator Howie Morales of Silver City, would direct the new revenue to strengthen New Mexico’s K-12 classrooms, which have been hit with cuts worth tens of millions of dollars in recent years.  The measure was approved on a strongly bipartisan basis.  It now goes to the Senate floor for passage.

“Our classrooms need the money that a cigarette tax boost would bring.  Public schools will be facing another dire funding crisis later this year, if Governor Susana Martinez sticks to her campaign promise to veto any new revenue bills.  If we care about children as much as we all say we do, we must take action to help schools’ bottom line now.  SB 231 will do that,” said Sen. Morales.

SB 231 would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack, with an equivalent increase in other tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.66 to $3.16, generating new revenues of more than $89 million annually.  The bill earmarks all the proceeds for the state equalization guarantee (SEG), or formula distribution, for all the state’s Kindergarten -12 public schools.

Supporters said the funds are necessary to backfill deep funding cuts to New Mexico’s public schools during recent years, to strengthen classroom’s budgets and improve outcomes for students.  Without an infusion of new revenues, schools may see cuts of 5% to 7% across the board.  The result would be larger class sizes; fewer teachers; fewer counselors; reduced classes in physical education, music, dance and art; cuts to all-day kindergarten and summer classes, and even school weeks being reduced to four days.

“This legislation would result in a quadruple win for our state by raising millions more in needed revenue for our public schools, saving the state millions spent on health care, keeping thousands of New Mexico kids from smoking, and helping thousands of adults quit,” said Sen. Morales.

SB 231 is endorsed by the state’s education advocates, and all the leading health organizations, including the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society Action Network.

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Senator Howie Morales’ Bill to Combat Car Theft Passes Key Committee

New Mexico Senate Democrats

For Immediate Release: March 6, 2017

Contact: Zach Marcus (505) 986-4882 Zachary.Marcus@nmlegis.gov

(Santa Fe, NM) Senator Howie Morales (D-28 Catron, Grants, Socorro) today passed legislation through Senate Judiciary Committee to combat car theft in New Mexico. Albuquerque is currently experiencing the worst car theft numbers in the nation.

Senate Bill 139 will enable a partnership between businesses and police to quickly identify stolen cars when they are sold to salvage and recycling centers and find the criminals responsible.

“When we try to recruit businesses to New Mexico, our auto theft numbers are a black eye on our communities. We need to quickly move to end this problem so that our state will be attractive to out of state businesses to locate here and hire our friends and neighbors who need to get back to work,” said Senator Morales.

Senator Morales continued, “This measure is a cost effective way to quickly engage our businesses and police officers to find, prosecute, and put car thieves behind bars where they belong. It will begin moving us away from being worst in the nation for auto theft.”

This bill now goes to the Senate Floor.

 

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Senator Bill Tallman (D-18 Bernalillo) Passes Bill through Key Committee to Put New Mexicans Back to Work

New Mexico Senate Democrats

For Immediate Release: February 20, 2017

Contact: Zach Marcus (505) 986-4882 Zachary.Marcus@nmlegis.gov

Senator Bill Tallman (D-18 Bernalillo) Passes Bill through Key Committee to Put New Mexicans Back to Work

(Santa Fe, NM) Today the Senate Corporations Committee passed Senator Bill Tallman’s bill to prevent employers from demanding credit checks from employees as a condition of submitting their application.

“After the worst recession in living memory, too many New Mexicans had their life savings wiped out and their credit rating suffered. That fact shouldn’t be used against them as they try to rebuild their lives and find employment,” said Senator Tallman.

“Credit checks have been proven to have no bearing whatsoever on the ability of an employee to do their job. This is just another way to victimize New Mexicans who have fallen on hard times,” Senator Tallman continued.

Ona Porter, President and CEO of Prosperity Works, spoke in favor of the bill saying, “A Federal Trade Commission report in February 2013 stated that 25% of consumers found errors in their credit reports. This only shows the further truth of what we already know: Credit History reports are used to continue to prevent working New Mexicans from getting ahead by shutting them out of jobs they would perform excellently if they only had the opportunity.”

The push to prevent businesses from demanding credit checks of potential employees has seen similar legislation passed in 11 states and many cities including New York City, the home of Wall Street.

In fact, the reasonableness of this bill is proved by the fact that credit check company Equifax announced in 2009 that they would no longer sell reports to employers saying: “Information contained in a credit report has no correlation to job performance and credit reports do not provide meaningful insight into a candidate’s character, responsibility, or prospective job performance.”

This bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate Floor.

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