House passes five bills on the last Monday of the 2024 session

Lower chamber approves changes to procurement, prison contraband, health insurance, pharmacies and car crashes

By: - February 13, 2024 12:05 am

The House Chambers inside the Roundhouse on Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source NM)

In their first floor session on Monday, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed five pieces of legislation that garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans.

All five bills approved by the House Monday afternoon still need to go through the committee process in the Senate, then and a full Senate vote before heading to the governor’s desk.

Public-private partnerships

The most debated bill on Monday afternoon was House Bill 190, which ultimately passed in a 56-9 vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Albuquerque), HB 190 would add “public-private partnerships” to the state law governing how public agencies can buy goods and services called procurement.

Co-sponsor Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) said the bill is “a major infrastructure development tool.” Co-Sponsor Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) said the bill makes it easier for local governments to complete infrastructure projects.

The bill also requires the creation of rules around “unsolicited proposals,” or proposals that private businesses submit to public agencies that are not in response to a specific request published by the government.

Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo) joined eight Republicans in opposition after the House rejected his amendment to prohibit unsolicited proposals in a 16-47 vote.

McQueen said if a private actor wanted a stretch of road built, or a broadband connection, or an EV charger, for example, it would be easy for them to approach the government about it, and that would not violate existing law.

“I really don’t think you need this in the bill,” he said.

McQueen successfully amended the bill to prohibit any public officials from being involved in competitive bids involving any bidders who have contributed to their election campaigns. The House voted unanimously in favor of that amendment.

Weed in prisons and jails

Second, the House passed House Bill 239 in a 57-4 vote with no debate.

HB 239, sponsored by Clovis Republican Reps. Martin Zamora and Andrea Reeb, would make it a crime to bring cannabis into state prisons and local jails if it’s not prescribed.

The bill would bring back a criminal offense from before New Mexico legalized medical and recreational cannabis, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.

Bringing cannabis into a jail would be a fourth-degree felony (which carries a sentence of 18 months in prison), while bringing it into a prison would be a third-degree felony (which carries a sentence of three years in prison), according to the Law Offices of the Public Defender.

Protecting beneficiaries of insolvent HMOs

Third, the House passed House Bill 181 in a 61-1 vote.

New Mexico already protects people who have life and health insurance from a company that becomes insolvent, through the New Mexico Life Insurance Guaranty Association.

“They help pick up the pieces and make sure the customers who are left high-and-dry are taken care of,” said sponsor Rep. Elizabeth Thomson (D-Albuquerque).

HB 181 would extend those protections to people who have coverage from a health maintenance organization (HMO), a kind of private health insurance plan for people with disabilities or people 65 and older.

Covering local pharmacies’ costs

The House also passed House Bill 165 in a 66-0 vote.

HB 165 would raise the amount of money paid by private health insurance networks contracted by the state to local pharmacies to cover the cost of dispensing drugs to Medicaid patients.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena) and Tara Jaramillo (D-Socorro).

Reporting vehicle crashes

The House also passed House Bill 186 in a 62-0 vote.

HB 186 would raise the threshold for how much property damage results from a car accident for the driver to be required to report the accident to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, from $500 to $1,000.

Sponsor Rep. Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde) said the last time the threshold was raised from $250 to $500 was in 1991. Currently, $1,000 is the federal standard, he added.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.