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Mini filibuster stalls debate on health collections bill

Mar 3, 2021

Credit Jacob Candelaria (D-Albuquerque)

LAS CRUCES - Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, put the brakes on debate over a bill to provide protection from medical debt collection with the New Mexico Legislature’s version of a filibuster on Monday, March 1.

Candelaria issued a Call of the Senate, which requires all members to be present before debate can continue. In a normal year, the sergeant at arms would then try to locate all the members, who were usually still in the building. One year, the state police were called out to roust a member who was well into a deep, drunken sleep. A hotel room window was broken out in the process of dragging him to the Roundhouse.

With the new rules this year in place because of the pandemic, there was no way to meet the call. And so, after a short break, the bill being debated was set aside and senators went on to the next item on the list.

Minimum wage

A bill to strip a provision in the state minimum wage law that allows for a lower wage to be paid to workers with disabilities passed 48-19 Tuesday in the House.

“Allowing employers in our state to profit from the labor of individuals with disabilities, while not paying them a living wage, is exploitative and discriminatory,” said Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, sponsor of the bill.

This follows passage of a bill through the Senate earlier this session that would remove a similar exemption for high school workers. And, House Bill 110, which would phase in an increase to $15, has cleared its first committee.

Utility relief

Legislation to help families who have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their utility bills passed the House on a 39-31 vote Tuesday.

House Bill 206 includes both immediate assistance to ratepayers and a new Community Development Block Grant to address the long-term costs of low-income households. It would create the utility bull relief program to allow public utilities to offer an installment agreement with specific term payments.

“Once disconnection moratoriums put in place for COVID-19 expire, many of our low-income residents face the very real possibility of their electricity or gas being cut off,” Ferrary said. “The bill ensures that New Mexicans hardest hit by the pandemic have a reasonable path to reconciling their accounts and don’t face further hardship in the months to come.” Ferrary and Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, are two of the bill’s co-sponsors.