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You don’t often see a bill pass unanimously, but it happened a few times in the 2023 New Mexico Legislative Session, which wrapped up last week.
Notable was the House of Representatives’ vote on Senate Bill 523, which had bipartisan sponsorship and passed 63-0. This was the revision of SB 296, which was designed to modify a 2021 House Bill.
That 2021 bill skyrocketed the malpractice caps in New Mexico, and would have gone into effect this year. The caps went from around $600,000 to the $5-6 million range. That issue sent some doctors packing to other states, and had many others thinking about it, as the increased insurance costs would have made practicing in the Land of Enchantment difficult at best. And we’re already a state that has a hard time recruiting doctors.
The earlier modification bill, SB 296, which also had bipartisan sponsorship, was languishing in this busy, spendy session until, as I understand it, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham got involved. It was tweaked to make the bill more palatable to some of its opponents, and sailed through, re-branded as SB 523. Primarily, the changes reduced the caps for independent doctors with smaller practices.
However, the revised bill still leaves vulnerable doctors who practice under the umbrella of a larger hospital or medical facility. And that is about half the doctors in New Mexico, 51 percent at last check.
No one is asking amnesty for doctors who make terrible errors. They should be punished and families should be compensated. But why should they be punished in New Mexico way out of proportion with the rest of the country?
I’m pleased enough legislators, and apparently the governor, recognized the critical situation and made the late rally. But I doubt it would have happened without a whole lot of New Mexico doctors pleading the case. It’s encouraging to know our elected representatives still listen to the people on occasion.
As our population ages, and as New Mexico has made concerted efforts to attract retirees, quality healthcare is increasingly important. I hope our state legislators and administrators recognize that only half the battle has been addressed. There is time between now and the next legislative session to do something about this serious issue for the other half of our state’s doctors.
Also important to note is SB 523 did not pass unanimously in the senate. That vote was 40-2, with the no votes coming from our own Joseph Cervantes, and Albuquerque’s Katy Duhigg. Both are attorneys.
Two bills that did pass both houses unanimously were HB 27, which eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for breast examinations, and SB 310, which expands authorization for peace officers to take individuals – particularly those with apparent mental health issues -- to crisis triage centers, often a better alternative than jail or the emergency room.
Las Cruces Sen. Bill Soules got national attention for SB 188, which establishes roasting green chile as the official state aroma. We all love our green chile, or so I thought, but even that bill didn’t pass unanimously. It went through the house 57-0, but four senators evidently thought the bill stunk, and voted no.