Tuition and fee increases: Colleges and universities would have to justify increases in tuition or fees after the state adopts its budget for the new fiscal year under a bill the Senate passed on a narrow 23-19 vote Monday.
Otherwise, higher education institutions would see a funding decrease of an equal amount.
Senate Bill 494, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, authorizes the Higher Education Department to reduce an institution’s approved budget by the same amount of revenue a tuition or fee increase would generate if the institution increases tuition or fees after the passage of the General Appropriation Act.
“If they’re not justifiable expenses, then the higher education secretary can push back,” Muñoz said.
Human services overhaul: The Senate passed a bill Monday to reorganize the Human Services Department into a new Health Care Authority Department.
Senate Bill 16, a legislative priority of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, passed the chamber on a 25-14 vote along party lines.
“The purpose is to consolidate the purchasing and negotiating power to lower health care costs by providing a single unified department to administer laws and exercise functions related to health care, purchasing and regulation,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque.
The governor has said the effort “creates an exceptional opportunity to leverage the state’s purchasing power and other policy tools” to make affordable health care more accessible.
Senator returns: State Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, returned to the Legislature on Monday after being out with COVID-19.
“Just a word of caution to everyone: This thing is very real,” Gonzales said.
“This is the second time that I’ve gone through this, and the first time was not a problem. But this second time, just sharing with the members of how real this thing is, one night I couldn’t even drink water, and that’s how I ended up in the ER,” he said. “That’s how serious this thing can just affect you very fast and very quick.”
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, who is also among the legislators who have contracted COVID-19 during this year’s 60-day legislative session, said the virus should be taken “very, very seriously.”
“Even after five vaccinations for me, the third time I’ve had it, it definitely took a shot at me, and it certainly took a shot at [Gonzales], but I am thrilled to have him back,” he said. “It’s good to see you, Bobby.”
Members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee noted Rep. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, was out with COVID-19. Castellano took part in the committee’s Monday morning meeting virtually.
Over the first 50 days of the legislative session, a number of lawmakers in both chambers have fallen ill with COVID-19. A walk through the state Capitol on any given day indicates about one in 20 people, if that, are wearing protective masks.
Bestiality bill: The Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill Monday that would outlaw sexual contact between a person and an animal.
Senate Bill 215, which would create the crimes of bestiality and aggravated bestiality, passed without any debate on the floor.
Currently, New Mexico is one of only two states that doesn’t outlaw bestiality. The other is West Virginia.
“We want to join the other 48 states and outlaw this crime against animals,” said Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Mark Moore, R-Albuquerque.
They dribble: The annual fundraiser basketball game between the House and Senate, known as Hoops 4 Hope, takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Santa Fe Indian School, 1501 Cerrillos Road. The suggested donation is $5.
The event, which raises money for cancer research and treatment at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Care Center, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.
The House holds the championship trophy, but members of the Senate said they are ready to regain the title. Spectators will be required to wear masks. Visit unmhealth.org/cancer/hoops4hope.html for more details.
Quote of the day: “There’s no movidas at 3 in the morning, the way it used to be back in the day.” — House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, speaking about the way lawmakers put together House Bill 547, an omnibus tax bill.’
“The bad news for me is, I have allergies. The good news for you is, I won’t be talking as much.” — Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, addressing members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Ivy-Soto’s voice was raspy.