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Public Health In The 2015 Session

Arianna Sena / KUNM

Psychiatric Meds In School—PASSED

If parents refuse to give their child psychiatric medicine, the school can’t prevent the student from participating in programs under Republican Rep. Nora Espinoza’s bill. The student also can’t be put into protective custody just because his or her parents refuse psychotropic drugs, and the school has to get consent from parents to screen a child for psychological issues. (MD)

Inmates With Mental Illness Awaiting Trial—PASSED AND SIGNED

This legislation is based on the idea that people with mental illness end up being in jail for longer periods of time. The Office of the Public Defender reports that people with mental illness are more likely to pick up felony charges. Republican Sen. Sander Rue’s memorial creates a task force—including representatives from law enforcement, state health agencies and advocates—to study housing options that include health care for people with mental illness awaiting trial. (MD)

Credit pixabay.com via CC

Medicaid For Inmates—PASSED

Democrat Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s bill requires the Human Services Department to create a way for inmates to apply for Medicaid while they’re incarcerated. Also, if signed by the governor, incarceration would no longer be reason enough to terminate someone’s Medicaid. The senator told KUNM his goal is to reduce recidivism by ensuring that inmates can seek substance abuse or mental health treatment—and use their Medicaid to pay for it—as soon as they’re released. (MD)

Related: Helping Inmates Sign Up For Medicaid

Halfway Houses—PASSED

It’s estimated that it costs about $14,000 more to house someone in a jail or prison than in a transitional facility, and there are 181 inmates eligible for release in New Mexico who remain in jail due to a lack of community resources. Sen. Lisa Torraco’s bill requires the state’s Corrections Department to create one halfway house in each probation and parole region. If signed by the governor, operations would have to commence at the new facilities on July 1, 2018. (MD)

Behavioral Health Need Zones—PASSED

Democrat Sen. Patricia Lundstrom’s bill requires the state to distribute non-Medicaid behavioral health funds to certain areas based on risk and need. The Department of Health will have to provide the data that determines the need. Death rates related to alcohol, drug overdoses and suicide are very high in certain counties, according to the fiscal impact report, and targeting funding could help alleviate the public health concerns in those regions. The measure is headed to the governor’s desk for signature. (MD)

Kendra's Law: Court-Ordered Treatment—FAILED

This would have allowed a District Court judge to order adults diagnosed with mental illness—and who are violent, or end up in the hospital or jail—to participate in outpatient treatment. The court would have also been able to order people to take medications to control their illness and behavior. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Mary Kay Papen and Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco, made it through a number of committees and passed both the House and Senate. But the final version never got the last stamp of approval from the Senate. (MD)

Credit Ed Williams / KUNM
Storefront loan shops line a strip mall in Gallup, N.M.

Interest Rate Caps On Storefront Lending—FAILED

With high poverty rates and little regulation, New Mexico has some of the most storefront lending stores per capita in the country. Opponents of these stores say they offer predatory loans, targeting the poor with interest rates that can be as high as 2,000 percent, while the loan industry insists these businesses provide an important line of cash to those most in need. Democrat Sen. Bill Soules, as well as Democrat Reps. Patricia Roybal Caballero and Gail Chasey introduced separate measures (SB 72, HB 24, HB 36), to cap storefront lending interest rates at 36 percent—all of which failed after strong opposition from the lending industry. (EW)

Related: Problems Linger For Borrowers Of Fast Cash

Late-Term Abortion Ban / Parental Notification—FAILED

A pair of abortion-related measures passed the House but were never heard on the Senate floor. Republican Rep. Alonzo Baldonado’s measure would have required that parents be notified 48 hours before a minor gets an abortion. Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell’s bill would have outlawed abortions for women who were 20 weeks or more pregnant. It also would have expanded a pharmacist’s right to refuse to dispense pregnancy-ending medication, like RU-486, or contraception, like the morning-after pill. (MD)

Related:Abortion Bill Also Allows Pharmacists To Refuse To Dispense Meds

Credit eggrole via Flickr
Similar legislation that would have lessened the penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession passed through the House in 2013.

Lighter Penalties For Marijuana—FAILED

Penalties for people in New Mexico caught with less than an ounce of marijuana would have been drastically reduced. Sen. Joseph Cervantes' measure would have decriminalized possession of such amounts, and offenders would have been issued a citation much like a speeding ticket. The bill managed to make it through the Senate but was stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. (RD)

Related: Senate To Vote On Lighter Marijuana Penalties

Limits On Solitary Confinement—FAILED

Lawsuits relating to the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico’s jails and prisons are costing the state millions of dollars. Legislation sponsored by Democrat Rep. Moe Maestas would have banned the use of segregation on juvenile offenders and inmates with severe mental illnesses. It would have also required more transparency around when and how often solitary confinement is used. And it would have outlawed the use of segregation for more than 15 days in a row. But the measure didn’t make it out of committee. (MD)

Related: Lawmakers Consider Limiting Solitary Confinement

Credit Rita Daniels / KUNM
Three hours into the hearing Representative Smith (R) of Sandia Park motioned to table HB 44.

Background Checks At Gun Shows—FAILED

Federal law prohibits felons, fugitives, people who’ve been convicted of domestic violence, and anyone who’s been declared mentally incompetent from owning guns. But in New Mexico such people can still purchase firearms at gun shows from private sellers. HB 44, introduced by Rep. Miguel Garcia, would have required everyone at gun shows to run background checks on their customers. After hours of testimony the measure was tabled in the Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee. (RD)

Related: Universal Background Checks At Gun Shows Off The Table, For Now

New Moms And Incarceration—FAILED

With the rise in the number of women who are incarcerated in New Mexico, Sen. Lisa Torraco sponsored a measure that would allow mothers in jail or prison to pump their breast milk so it can be stored for their babies. It would have also added pregnancy status to the list of what a judge considers during sentencing, with the idea that house arrest might be more appropriate in some cases. The legislation passed the Senate but was not heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

Related: Senator: Moms Should Be Able To Pump Breast Milk In Jail

Funding To Treat Drug-Addicted Pregnant Women—FAILED

The University of New Mexico’s Milagro program treats pregnant women dealing with substance abuse issues. Funding to Milagro was scaled back in 2011, and inpatient services were axed, though outpatient care continued. Democrat Sen. Bill O’Neill’s measure would have appropriated $3.5 million to Milagro to expand services, but it never made it to the floor for a vote. 

Related: Mothers Fight The Stigma Of Addiction

Credit Marisa Demarco / KUNM

Dental Therapists—FAILED

There are 33 counties in New Mexico, and 32 of them are federally designated shortage areas when it comes to dentistry. The problem is sometimes geographic: rural counties often don’t have dentists. In other instances, it’s financial: Less than half of the dentists in the state accept Medicaid, according to Pamela Blackwell of Health Action New Mexico. Republican Rep. Dennis Roch’s measure to create a mid-level dental provider called a dental therapist was passed by the House but didn’t make it out of a Senate committee before the session ended. (MD)

Related: Could Dental Therapists Fill The Access Gap?

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
Ed Williams came to KUNM in 2014 by way of Carbondale, Colorado, where he worked as a public radio reporter covering environmental issues. Originally from Austin, Texas, Ed has reported on environmental, social justice, immigration and Native American issues in the U.S. and Latin America for the Austin American-Statesman, Z Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and others. In his spare time, look for Ed riding his mountain bike in the Sandias or sparring on the jiu-jitsu mat.
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