Senate Passes Bipartisan Medical Canabis Reform, SB 177, for Patients

NEW MEXICO STATE SENATOR CISCO McSORLEY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senate Passes Bipartisan Medical Canabis Reform, SB 177, for Patients

(Santa Fe, NM) – With solid bipartisan support, the Senate today passed by a vote of 29 – 11 legislation that strongly reforms New Mexico’s medical cannabis laws for the first time in ten years.  The bill was sponsored by Senator Cisco McSorley (D-16-Bernalillo), who also was the sponsor of the original medical cannabis law in New Mexico.  Last-minute changes to SB 177 were made on the Senate floor including requiring that veterans be diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition to enroll in the program, like any other patient or applicant, and mandating that patient renewals occur annually, albeit in a streamlined fashion thereafter.

“I am proud of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in the Senate for passing this bill to lighten the regulatory burden on patients, many of whom are facing life-or-death situations daily.  It is compassionate, patient-focused legislation. It contains strong checks and balances. We listened carefully to patients across our state, and to our constituents.  This legislation will lead to more people getting access to medical cannabis treatment in New Mexico, which has proven to be extremely successful,” said Sen. McSorley.

Changes to the state’s medical cannabis rules under the McSorley bill include:

  • Allows patients to have 5 ounces of medical cannabis.
  • Cannabis producers are permitted to grow as many as 450 plants, and that will not change until the number of patients increases.
  • Puts into statute all existing, qualifying medical conditions for the program currently listed in state Health Department regulations.
  • Adds the term “substance abuse disorder” for those undergoing treatment for addiction. Cannabis has been proven effective in treating opioid, methamphetamine and alcohol addiction.

Changes to New Mexico’s medical cannabis laws contained in SB 177 are the result of listening to hundreds of patients over the past months, the latest medical research, and surveys of current best practices in other states and internationally.  The bill addresses many of the key issues patients raised.

There are approximately 30,000 patients using medical cannabis in the state.  Based on other states’ statutes and experiences, New Mexico probably should have approximately 60,000 patients.  SB 177’s reforms will allow that to occur.  The state’s groundbreaking 2007 medical cannabis law was one of the first such laws passed in in the Unites States.  SB 177 is endorsed by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

SB 177 will be taken up next by the House of Representatives.

 

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Sen. Joseph Cervantes Pushes Legislation for Competitive Procurement for Electricity Supply, More Competition, Transparency, and Consumer Savings in NM’s Energy Markets

For Immediate Release

Sen. Joseph Cervantes Pushes Legislation for Competitive Procurement for Electricity Supply, More Competition, Transparency, and Consumer Savings in NM’s Energy Markets

 (Sante Fe, NM) – New legislation introduced by Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-31- Doña Ana) would require electric distribution utilities to employ a competitive procurement process when purchasing power for their retail customers. The legislation, ‘Investor-Owned Utility Procurement Process’, SB 360, mandates that utilities perform a request for competitive proposals, subject to scrutiny by an independent evaluator, for the procurement of a supply-side electric energy or capacity resource.

“Market competition is an effective way to ensure the highest quality resources at the lowest cost to customers and businesses alike – we need that same assurance for the selection of our electricity supplies. Competitive procurement processes ensure a fair shake for all competitors – from the selection of secretarial services to janitorial supplies.  Public agencies use competition to obtain the best possible product, and our electricity sector should welcome competition on behalf of its customers,” said Sen. Cervantes.

Under the Cervantes bill, the procurement process will be reformed to permit an objective evaluation of a utility’s expected direct costs, as well as the financial and operational risks associated with fuel price volatility, resource reliability, credit worthiness associated with potential suppliers, and environmental regulations.

If passed, the legislation will put New Mexico among many other states that have already adopted this industry standard, including our neighbors  Colorado, Arizona, and Utah.  By opening utility resource choices to competitive bidding, the bill will lower rates charged of customers, increase transparency, and reduce litigation.

The bill will protect the public interest and ensure compliance with state law that requires utilities to select the least-cost solutions to energy resource demands, with preference for the least environmentally damaging resource. Across the country states have recognized that not having RFP requirements artificially limits choice of resources, ownership of resources, and limits the availability of low-cost options.  Practitioners and regulators in most states understand that, due to rate base regulation and emphasis on ‘earnings growth,’ most Investor-Owned-Utilities (IOUs) prefer to own new supply-side resources, even where the long-term costs may be greater than available power purchase alternatives.

Given recent controversy over ratemaking and resource replacement cases, this legislation will help to ensure that an unbiased evaluation of all resources is conducted and that it is informed by competitive market bids solicited through a transparent Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Not only does the bill increase competition, save ratepayers money, promote efficiency, transparency, and accountability, in states where competitive procurement for electricity supply has been adopted, the process has also proven to stimulate the economy.

“What they are realizing in our neighboring states as a result of the RFP and bidding process is that they are ushering in a rapid transition to renewables, lowering the cost for generation, and ratepayers are reaping the savings from a diversified energy portfolio. These wind and solar resources are now under construction. This is a win for good government, good jobs, and responsibility to our children,” said Sen. Cervantes

The same effect has been seen in New Mexico. When Southwestern Public Service (SPS) voluntarily issued an RFP it resulted in 140 MW of solar at a cost of 4.2¢/kWh that will save consumers $84 million net present value (NPV) over the life of the project.  As a result of another RFP, SPS had 700 MW of wind approved as a system resource by the New Mexico PRC at cost of 2.3¢/kWh, that will save ratepayers $590 million NPV.

The idea is to standardize this practice because we know it works. Competitive procurement processes are a win-win for consumers and for the electricity market, so it’s not surprising that they are the norm, not the exception.  New Mexico’s electric supply procurement should conform with this standard.

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Legislation to Require State Government to Negotiate Prescription Drug Prices

SENATOR JEFF STEINBORN

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Legislation to Require State Government to Negotiate Prescription Drug Prices

“Pharmaceuticals Purchasing Council” Could Save State Budget Millions

(Santa Fe, NM) – New Mexico State Senator Jeff Steinborn, Democrat from Las Cruces, and State Representative Joanne Ferrary today introduced legislation that could save taxpayers millions of dollars.  Senate Bill 354, ‘Interagency Pharmaceutical Purchasing Council’, would require that all state agencies and state benefit providers who purchase prescription drugs to work together to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.  In fiscal year 2016 the combined state agencies spent over $670 million on prescription drugs, a staggering 54% increase in two years. Steinborn’s bill would leverage taxpayer-funded health agencies in New Mexico including the Departments of Health, Human Services, Corrections, Medicaid, retired State government workers’ benefits, UNM, and other organizations, to negotiate lower drug prices.

“Given the astronomical and rising costs our state pays for prescription drugs, it’s absolutely critical to maximize our purchasing power to get the very best deal we can for taxpayers,” said legislation sponsor Senator Jeff Steinborn.  “By requiring state agencies to work together to aggressively negotiate better prescription prices and improve health care utilization, we could literally save the state millions of dollars” said Senator Steinborn.

Legislation co-sponsor Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Democrat from Las Cruces, added “We owe it to New Mexicans to do everything we can to lower the cost of prescription drugs and save our state money. This is critically needed reform that our state can’t afford not to do.  It would be irresponsible for us not to explore every opportunity to save funds that we need to move New Mexico forward.”

New Mexico is currently negotiating prescription drug costs on a limited basis.

SB 354 would greatly expand the prescription drug purchasing currently being negotiated by state government by creating an ‘Interagency Pharmaceuticals Purchasing Council.’  The Council would be headed by the State Secretary of General Services, and include all state government purchasers of pharmaceuticals.

The Council would evaluate a range of cost containment strategies including partnering with states who already conduct bulk purchasing that realize billions in savings for state budgets, and lower prices for consumers.  According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Maryland – one example among many – reported that its Medicaid program alone saved $19 million in 2006 because of its similar purchasing pool.

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Senator Bill O’Neill bill to “Ban the Box” moves forward with Bipartisan Support

For Immediate Release:

Senator Bill O’Neill bill to “Ban the Box” moves forward with Bipartisan Support

(Santa Fe, NM) Senator Bill O’Neill today passed legislation through Senate Public Affairs Committee to ensure New Mexicans have adequate job opportunities despite what happened in their pasts.

Senate Bill 78 will prevent employers from including a question about prior convictions on job applications.

“Once people have served their sentences and paid their debt to society we shouldn’t continue to punish them,” said Senator O’Neill.

“We need to make sure they are able to return to being productive members of society.  If we prevent people from restarting their lives when they return from prison we only make the likelihood they’ll be reincarcerated.  That doesn’t make sense,” said Senator O’Neill.

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

 

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Senator Howie Morales Pushes Creation of Early Childhood Services Department

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senator Howie Morales Pushes Creation of Early Childhood Services Department

Bill passes Education Committee, All Democrats Supporting

(Santa Fe, NM) – Pointing to the huge need to improve the lives of at-risk children in New Mexico, Democratic Senator Howie Morales (D-28-Catron, Grant and Socorro) today called for the creation a state agency solely focused on promoting and administering all early childhood services.  Morales’ Senate Bill 106 passed the key Senate Education Committee, and if enacted, would consolidate the funding streams, programs and personnel of numerous early childhood services currently dispersed across the Departments of Education; Children Youth and Families; and Health.

“Research shows that an intense focus on children from birth to five can significantly improve life-long outcomes. By creating an Early Childhood Services Department, we can reduce the fragmentation, the uneven quality and the inequity in our programs and services.  We spend close to $250 million annually on several agencies to serve between 50 – 70 thousand children and families.  This legislation will go a long way to help us get it right.  It is critical that we ensure every child in New Mexico is given the best opportunity at the earliest age for success in school, career and life,” said Sen. Morales.

The legislation represents the most comprehensive effort to coordinate and improve the full range of services necessary to support young children between the ages of 0 to 5 in their development to be introduced in the session. It would provide expectant parents and families needed resources and skills to raise children who are healthy and ready to learn; promote safe, stable and nurturing environments for all children and families; help families achieve their goals; deliver services to help children develop emotionally and socially, and get assistance for nutrition, education, child care and health care.

Sen. Morales called for urgent action on his bill, observing that New Mexico ranks 49th in children’s well-being, has the highest rate of children living in poverty in the nation, that 59% of 3 and 4 year olds are not enrolled in pre-school, that more than 70% of children are not proficient in reading by the 4th grade, and that 41% of children in our state are raised in single-parent families.

SB 106 is supported by advocates for public school classrooms and children including NM-AFT, NM-NEA, United Way of Santa Fe, and others.

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Senate Democrats Blast Governor’s Veto of Emergency Funding for Courts, Juries

NM’s Behavioral Health Crisis Demands Solutions

NM’s Behavioral Health Crisis Demands Solutions

By Senator Mary Kay Papen

Jan. 28, 2017  The Las Cruces Sun News

A terrible tragedy that affects thousands of vulnerable children and adults in need of often life-saving mental health and substance abuse treatment continues to play out in slow motion in New Mexico. Crucial health services for residents now are withering away as the fourth of only five behavioral providers in our state, Valle del Sol of Arizona, announced last month that it will leave New Mexico. For those who are on the receiving end, it is intolerable.

This dire situation for people began, it may be recalled, three and a half years ago when Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration leveled charges of overbilling and fraud against the state’s then-15 long-standing treatment providers. Even though the Attorney General’s Office subsequently cleared all of them of the allegations, the state has never returned more than $11 million in payments owed to the providers from that time. As a result, most of the providers went out of business and treatment access across the state was disrupted or taken away altogether.

The provision of behavioral health services in New Mexico has never recovered. The companies from Arizona brought in to replace pre-2013 providers now all have left, except for one.

In the current legislative session, I will try at least to ensure that this situation, created by groundless allegations, never occurs again. My due process legislation will guarantee that providers who stand accused of fraud by the state receive the opportunity to review the allegations made against them, and the chance to respond to those allegations in a hearing, and in district court. That opportunity did not exist by law in 2013.

That is fine for the future. But what about today? Many questions linger.

At a hearing of the Legislative Finance Committee recently, state Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest stated that the $11 million owed to providers for services rendered had been kept in a non-interest bearing account by OptumHealth, the state’s contractor overseeing payments to providers from 2009 to 2013. Despite a lawsuit to have those funds paid out to the providers, the state has now placed them in a court registry, where they sit idle.

Ten of New Mexico’s former providers are accusing OptumHealth in a lawsuit that it fabricated the fraud allegations in order to keep the $11 million. A federal court will decide if that is true. But it is worth noting that OptumHealth on another occasion was fined by the state $1 million for failing to pay providers for their services. It is all very concerning.

How many people with mental health disorders are going without treatment for their conditions today because of the disruption of services caused by the 2013 takeover? We don’t know, but you can bet it’s a lot.

We are going into the fifth year of this mental health and substance abuse services crisis, and still there is no interest from the governor’s office to solve it. New Mexico needs direct answers to get to the bottom of this mess. Most importantly, we need to get the state’s behavioral health system back on its feet, delivering treatment to vulnerable children and adults. Much more leadership from the executive would help make it so.

Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, represents District 38 in the New Mexico Senate, where she is president pro tem.

Car Theft Bill Should Help Police by Sen. Howie Morales

Car Theft Bill Should Help Police

By Senator Howie Morales, Democrat – Silver City

January 29th, 2017 Albuquerque Journal

More New Mexicans are becoming victims of auto theft every day, especially in Albuquerque, and it is a deeply unsettling and disruptive experience. But, now, it is even taking lives.

A wonderful 14-year-old, Shaylee Boling, was tragically killed in Albuquerque earlier this month when police say ruthless car thieves crashed their stolen auto into the vehicle in which Shaylee was riding with her mother and 3-year-old brother, who were severely injured.

It is an intolerable trend that shows no signs of slowing. Elected officials and law enforcement must not wait to take strong action to combat car theft.

Albuquerque now has the highest rate of auto theft in the entire United States, according to the most recent report by U.S. New & World Report. No. 1 for car theft in the country.

Over 8,500 vehicles were reported stolen across our state in 2015 and 6,000 occurred in Albuquerque alone.

How much havoc does having your car stolen cause? Families depend on their cars to get to school and work, to travel to medical care and treatment, and to go about their normal daily lives.

People are faced with enormous burdens when they suddenly lose their vehicles to theft. The time lost, and the financial and psychological burdens of this rampant crime on the people of our state is inestimable.

A bipartisan group of legislators, including Rep. Monica Youngblood, Rep. Patrico Ruilobo and Rep. Bill Rehm, all of Bernalillo County, have joined together to push for a law to create important new tools that will help law enforcement to substantially reduce auto theft in New Mexico.

We recently introduced the legislation at the State Capitol alongside State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and detective Ken Miller of the Albuquerque Police Department.

Many car thieves try to sell their stolen cars to auto recyclers to get cash. Senate Bill 139 and its companion, House Bill 177, will help stem the tide of auto theft across the state by partnering with automotive recyclers to help catch the criminals engaging in it.

It creates a system for auto recyclers to verify with the state Motor Vehicle Department, at the time of transaction, that the vehicle being considered for purchase is not, in fact, stolen.

The bills will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to gather and share information about potentially stolen vehicles.

Our legislation also will aid investigations into and recovery of stolen vehicles.

Preventing and reducing auto theft by exposing criminals and strengthening penalties is critical. The high risk of being identified at the point of sale, in addition to the profits vs. penalty ratio, will swiftly deter many of these criminals.

We know that it will work. Similar recent programs in other states have provided swift and significant results.

In North Carolina, the Division of Motor Vehicles’ License and Theft Bureau received 41 reports of stolen vehicles in the system’s first month of implementation. As a result, 22 of those stolen vehicles were stopped from being sold to salvage yards and 19 were confiscated following sales. The Bureau also recovered 33 vehicles.

Enacting car theft legislation will be a victory for New Mexico, and especially the residents of Bernalillo County who have been hard hit by vehicle theft.

When we consider the scope of the problem in New Mexico and the terrible consequences car theft carries, we cannot afford to wait.

New Mexico ranks poorly out of 50 states in so many important categories, such as unemployment, job growth, student achievement, child poverty and child well-being. Rolling back our current status as worst for car theft is one area we can, and must, begin to improve substantially, even in this year’s meeting of the Legislature.

Car theft bill should help police

Sen. Mimi Stewart Files Legislation Expanding Consumer Protections for New Mexicans Living in Homeowners Associations

Mimi Header

Sen. Mimi Stewart Files Legislation Expanding Consumer Protections for New Mexicans Living in Homeowners Associations

(Santa Fe, NM) – This week, Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo) filed SB 244 which significantly expands consumer protections available to New Mexicans living in homeowners associations.

According to industry data, there are approximately 260,000 New Mexicans residing in nearly 2,000 community associations (both homeowner and condominium) across the state.

“The fact is a significant number of New Mexican families are impacted by the operations of home owner associations and their interests and needs should be protected,” Sen. Stewart remarked.  The state legislature took initial steps in 2013, led by Sen. Stewart through passage of the New Mexico Homeowner Association Act (HOA Act), but more oversight is required.

“Our state has had nearly four years to monitor the effectiveness of the HOA Act and, frankly, it’s time for the legislature to address some of the consumer protection gaps.  That is the purpose of SB 244,” Sen. Stewart explained.

SB 244 will add the following protections:

  • New “conflict of interest” definition and application to HOA board members and management companies;
  • Increased records access for homeowners and a fine for failure to provide that access;
  • Requirement of board members to read their community documents;
  • Ability of homeowners to remove and replace board members;
  • Expanded real estate disclosures and a fee cap for that information;
  • Mandatory notice and access of homeowners to association meetings;
  • New association dispute resolution process to provide opportunity for conflict resolution without having to file costly lawsuits; and
  • Application of the Act to all HOAs (current Act provides exemptions for associations created before July 1, 2013)

“Most homeowners associations and their boards operate effectively, but I have learned of some indefensible cases of abuse that the state can remedy through passage of this legislation.  I welcome the support of my colleagues in making this a priority this session,” Sen. Stewart concluded.

NM Democratic Legislators Roll Out Jobs Package to Jump-Start Ailing Economy

January 26, 2017

New Mexico Democratic Legislators Roll Out Jobs Package to Jump-Start Ailing Economy 

Democrats Announce ‘New Mexico Jobs Now!’ Plan:

(Santa Fe, NM) –Democratic members of the New Mexico Senate and House today announced their priority package of bills to create jobs and spur economic activity, following completion of an urgent $216 million solvency package to address the state’s budget shortfall.  The six bills that the legislators vowed to pass expeditiously include capital outlay infrastructure, a minimum wage increase, broadband expansion, reform of local economic development funds, adjustments to job training programs, and green-lighting industrial hemp research in the state.  Democratic legislators said the state’s second-worst in the nation unemployment rate at 6.6% made quick action to create jobs crucial.
“Today, families and young people in our state are confronted with poor prospects for getting a job.  Far too many residents are living in real economic distress, and anxious about the future for themselves and their children. Democrats in the Legislature will take action immediately to restore their hopes and dreams, said Senator Clemente Sanchez,” Chairman of the influential Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee.

Highlights of Democrats’ ‘New Mexico Jobs Now!’ Legislative Jobs Plan:

  • Capital outlay Infrastructure – Infrastructure projects create needed jobs in local communities starting right away, when done correctly. Democrats in the Senate and House intend to pass a $63 million package of spending projects for infrastructure repairs and improvements.  These projects will help stimulate the economy and create jobs in all parts of the state.
  • Minimum Wage Increase: New Mexico suffers with some of the lowest median wages in the country. Democrats in the Legislature intend to pass a modest pay raise above the current $7.50 state-wide minimum wage to help the state’s lowest-paid workers – in this session.  It’s long overdue, and families have waited long enough.
  • Broadband: Democratic majorities in each chambers will pass legislation to significantly increase broadband access across New Mexico. Investments in broadband infrastructure can have real impact on jobs and business growth, especially in rural communities. Expanding access to broadband technology is a proven method to encourage job growth.
  • Industrial Hemp Research: Democrats will pass legislation to lay the foundation for hemp industrialization in the state, and ample jobs. New Mexico has a unique competitive advantage for growing industrial hemp, a low water crop that is perfect for the arid climate of the state.  It has multiple commercial uses, and will create important rural jobs.
  • LEDA: Democrats plan to reform the way state Local Economic Development dollars are distributed, to make them work better for communities in our state.  The intended legislation will assist existing, home-grown small businesses better access funds in order to grow and prosper.
  • JTIP: Democrats intend to pass legislation to improve current state job training funds to better assist the growth and expansion of promising, home-grown businesses.

“There is a serious jobs crisis afflicting New Mexico today.  We face major economic challenges, and these consensus measures will help put people in our state back to work quickly.   Before we take action on any other legislation, we intend to put bills from these six legislative areas on an accelerated track.  Our goal is to attract new jobs to, and expand existing businesses in, New Mexico, right away,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader, Senator Peter Wirth.

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