On March 16, with less than two days left in the 2023 legislative session, two major bills have been enacted by the 2023 New Mexico Legislature, one which has been signed into the law by the Governor and the other on its way to the Governor for signatures
HOUSE BILL 7 SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
On March 16 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act. House Bill 7 prohibits discrimination in reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming healthcare services. It prohibits municipalities and counties from passing ordinances that directly or indirectly discriminate against either reproductive and gender-affirming care.
It was on February 26, 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill repealing the 1969 abortion ban. The 1969 law criminalized abortion to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest. The repeal of the 1969 law criminalizing abortion resulted in abortions being made lagal in the state
On June 22, 2021 the United States Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization wherein the Supreme Court overruled and reversed the cases of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and 50 years of constitutional law precedence ruling that a woman does not have constitutionally protected right to an abortion. The US Supreme Court ruled the authority to regulate abortion was returned to the individual states and their elected representatives.
As a direct result of the Supreme Court’s Dobb’s decision, abortion and woman’s reproductive rights became a defining issue in New Mexico’s 2022 Gubernatorial race between incumbent Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Mark Ronchetti. Ronchetti made abortion and imposing limits on a woman’s right to choose a center piece of his campaign and suggested a “reasonable policy” that proposed banning abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. Lujan Grishasm for her part pushed back and said abortion was a woman’s decision and must remain legal in the state.
In response to the Dobbs decision, the cities of Clovis and Hobbs and Lea and Roosevelt counties passed anti-abortion ordinances that impact abortion clinics’ ability to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion.
House Bill 7 enables the attorney general or district attorneys to sue an entity responsible for a violation. The court could apply remedies, including monetary damages. The court can also apply a $5,000 civil penalty or actual damages against the entity responsible for the discrimination.
House Bill 7 is sponsored by Rep. Linda Serrato, Rep. Charlotte Little, Rep. Kristina Ortez, House Majority Whip Rep. Reena Szczepanski, and Rep. Janelle Anyanonu.
The Governor said this about the legislation:
“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care. … I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”
SENATE BILL 523 SENT TO GOVERNOR FOR SIGNATURE
On March 16, a mere 48 hours after it was first introduced, Senate Bill 523 which amends the Medical Malpractice Act was unanimously passed by the House. Governor Lujan Grisham and Senate leaders announced the compromise on March 14. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Republican Minority Leader Gregory Baca had been working together on this bill since a Senate committee set it aside earlier versions this month.
Changes to the Medical Malpractice Act was one of the most contentious and very emotional issues this year in the 2023 New Mexico legislature to deal with medical malpractice claims and the need to place reasonable caps on such claims. At the very core of the issue is the 2021 rewrite of the medical malpractice law.
The changes to the medical malpractice law centers on medical clinics that are not owned by hospitals. Surgical centers and urgent care clinics independently owned by physicians were included with larger hospital insurance coverage requirements. The potential closure of independent clinics loomed large because of the medical malpractice insurance coverage requirements. Much smaller, independent medical clinics are a critical part of New Mexico’s health care system network, especially in rural New Mexico.
The 2021 rewrite made it impossible for New Mexico licensed doctors to secure and afford medical malpractice insurance with a $5 million cap when they practiced in independent outpatient clinics. Some standalone emergency rooms, urgent care centers and surgical clinics with maximum malpractice payouts with an insurance coverage cap set at $750,000 would have seen the cap rise to $6 million by 2027 under the 2021 law rewrite that included them in the same category as hospitals. Independent outpatient clinics were faced with the crisis of being unable to obtain the medical insurance they needed to continue operating.
Senate Bill 523 places a $1 Million cap on claims for independent healthcare facilities, such as urgent care, ambulatory surgical centers, and free-standing emergency rooms that are not hospital controlled. Had the Medical Malpractice Act not been amended, the cap would have increased to $5 Million in 2024 and resulted in the closure of many small healthcare facilities that would not have been able to afford the insurance.
With passage both the House and Senate, malpractice insurance compromise now goes to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for her signature.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Talk about cutting it close with enactment of both House Bill 7 and Senate Bill 523. The 60 day session ends on March 18 at 12 noon. The legislative process has always been very messy, but it does work when legislator’s on both sides want it to work as evidenced with enactment of the compromise Medical Malpractice Act.
The blunt truth is time has totally run out on major bills, especially the gun control measures. Many of the gun control bills have not even had 1 committee hearing, only a few have made it through just 1 chamber and only House Bill 9 known as “Bennie’s Bill” dealing with unlawful access to firearm by minor’s has been enacted and signed into law by the Governor.