Albuquerque Journal

Malpractic­e fix one of several must-dos before session ends


Eleven more days. That’s how long lawmakers have to salvage an important piece of legislatio­n that would help retain much-needed doctors in New Mexico: medical malpractic­e reform.

A 2021 legislativ­e overhaul of the state’s malpractic­e law, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, will have disastrous effects come Jan. 1. Independen­t physicians and doctors at independen­tly owned outpatient clinics say they will be forced to close their practices and leave because the cap on all medical malpractic­e claims will increase substantia­lly, prompting costs for malpractic­e insurance to soar or the coverage to be unavailabl­e.

New Mexico was already below national provider-to-population benchmarks, having lost 700 primary care physicians between 2017 and 2021. We’re experienci­ng shortages in all fields, especially in rural areas. Senate Bill 296 is an attempt to stop the bleeding. It would pause for two more years a change in the Medical Malpractic­e Act that lumped low-risk outpatient clinics in with hospitals, raising the clinics’ cap on legal damages from $750,000 to $5 million beginning next year.

The bipartisan bill sponsored by Albuquerqu­e-based Sens. Mark Moores, a Republican, and retired Dr. Martin Hickey, a Democrat, would also create a task force to craft a durable solution.

But SB 296 was tabled by the Senate Tax, Business and Transporta­tion Committee last week on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter Wirth, and Sens. Carrie Hamblen, Leo Jaramillo, Bill Tallman and Benny Shendo voted against keeping doctors in our state. SB 296 won’t heal the state’s health care woes, but it’s an essential stopgap measure that needs to be revived and put on the governor’s desk.

■ Another bill meriting swift resuscitat­ion and approval is Senate Bill 24, which would provide transparen­cy in spending $1 billion of remaining federal education stimulus funds intended to address the impacts of COVID-19.

SB 24 would ensure Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds are monitored and spent to improve student outcomes. The bill was passed by the Senate on Feb. 27 on a strong 36-2 bipartisan vote, but ran aground Friday in the House Education Committee, which tabled it on a 7-6 vote after the Superinten­dents Associatio­n, School Boards Associatio­n and the Public Education Department essentiall­y said accountabi­lity to taxpayers is too hard.

Lawmakers need to assert their oversight authority over the remaining $1 billion-plus or relinquish any credibilit­y when weighing in on New Mexico’s last-in-the-nation education standing.

■ A measure meriting defeat is Tallman’s perennial anti-transparen­cy measure. Senate Bill 63 would shield the names of all but a few finalists for appointive executive positions from public view. It passed the Senate by a 31-9 vote last month. The House must stop SB 63 to ensure women and people of color are being seriously considered for top public-sector jobs.

■ Senate Joint Resolution 1 also needs to die. It would ask New Mexico voters to establish a statewide school board and remove the Public Education Department from the governor’s control. PED needs leadership stability, not unaccounta­ble politics from a 15-member board.

■ Tweaking the Cannabis Regulation Act of 2021 isn’t turning out to be as easy as supporters had promised. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee last week blocked HB 157 on a tie vote. The Cannabis Product Safety Bill is common-sense clarificat­ion on packaging requiremen­ts to protect children. It was drafted in response to reports of children accidental­ly consuming cannabis gummies that mimic candy.

HB 157 is an easy fix to a problem created by hurried lawmakers and lax enforcemen­t by the Cannabis Control Division.

■ Banning bestiality is long overdue. New Mexico is one of two states where sexual abuse of animals is not a crime. An amended version of SB 215 passed the Senate 40-0 Monday. Enough said. House members need to do the right thing and get the bill to the governor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States