Legislative Roundup: 27 Days Left In 2021 Session

Legislative Roundup

Collins confirmed: The Senate on Friday confirmed the appointment of Dr. Tracie Collins as secretary of the state Department of Health by a 38-1 vote, with Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, casting the lone dissenting vote.

Brandt said he sent Collins two separate letters and never received a response.

“I do not believe that the lack of response is good policy, a good way to run the department,” he said, adding Collins said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee she had never received the letters.

During the committee hearing and then on the Senate floor, lawmakers praised Collins as highly qualified to run the department, which has been at the forefront of the state’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You are, by far, the most qualified secretary of health that we’ve ever had,” Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, told Collins during the committee hearing.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase called Collins the “ideal candidate” for the job.

“It’s been my dream to see a population health expert heading up the Department of Health,” he said of Collins, who joined the department late last year from the University of New Mexico, where she served as dean of the College of Population Health.

Senate advances slew of bills: The Senate approved eight bills during Friday’s floor session, including a measure that would allow student-athletes to earn compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness.

“It’s a Lobo/Aggie bill,” said Sen. Moores, the sponsor of Senate Bill 96, referring to the mascots of UNM and New Mexico State University, respectively. “Any bill to bring those two organizations together is powerful.”

The Senate also passed legislation that authorizes the New Mexico Finance Authority to make loans or grants for 37 projects from the state’s water project fund. Several projects in Northern New Mexico stand to benefit from the multimillion-dollar appropriation.

“Senate Bill 137 ensures a number of important water projects are covered in each of the four counties which make up my Senate district,” said Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española. “The passage of this bill ensures flood prevention, water conservation, recycling and reuse and/or treatment projects are funded in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.”

Senate Bill 122, which would amend the state Pharmacy Act by removing the prohibition against “non-pharmacists’ use of pharmacy insignias or devices”, also made it out of the chamber. The sponsor, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the “Rx” symbol is already in widespread use.

Aid-in-dying bill advances: The last act the House of Representatives took Friday was to approve House Bill 47, known as the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The measure, which passed 39-27, would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who are of sound mind. It has failed in at least two previous legislative sessions.

Now it heads to the Senate for consideration. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she would sign the legislation. Rep. Debbie Armstrong, an Albuquerque Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor, said that while the hearings on the issue remain difficult, so does living through the pain of watching a loved one near death wanting to die with dignity.

As the bill made its way through the House, arguments from both supporters and opponents have touched on sensitive issues such as moral and ethical standards for physicians, personal choice, religious faith and the inevitability of death.

The bill is named after a former state judge who died of cancer not long after she spoke out in favor of a 2017 version of the bill.

Space tourism: Before citizen spaceflight seemed even a remote possibility, the Legislature passed a law extending liability protections to spacecraft manufacturers and equipment suppliers at Spaceport America. On Friday, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to broaden the 2013 law to include protections for transporting people into outer space.

House Bill 68 expands the definition of “launch vehicle” to cover more types of spaceships and removes a current sunset clause on the informed consent act.

Thanks to Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, the debate got a bit sidetracked when she mentioned actress Victoria Principal had been one of the first people to sign up for a commercial spaceflight from New Mexico’s spaceport.

As any fan of the old TV series Dallas knows, Principal played outsider Pamela Barnes, who marries into the rich Ewing family.

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, who introduced HB 68, said she had never heard of the actress or the show. “I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a child, so I guess that’s my loss,” she said.

Ezzell broke out into hearty laughter. “That’s a sign of my age, I guess,” she said. “Thank you for putting me in my place.”

Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, came to Ezzell’s defense, saying a lot of the “mature” lawmakers in the Legislature have fond memories of Principal. It’s unclear if the actress still plans to take a spaceflight from New Mexico. 

Quote of the day: “My poor fiancé. How that guy still wants to get married, I can’t explain. He lost a customer who said he’s drinking the blood of babies.” —Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, referring to her fiancé Manny Cordova during a virtual news conference Friday. The governor was addressing the anger and frustration New Mexicans have felt during the COVID-19 pandemic.