Editor's Note: This is the first in a several-part series on the Grant County Community Health Council meeting held Monday, March 18.
Members of the Grant County Community Health Council heard a legislative summary from Sen. Howie Morales.
Morales began his talk by saying how much he appreciates his family's support and how special it was to have them with him during the recently completed legislative session.
In December 2012, the state had a surplus and he had hoped to use it to pay for increases to those who had had pay cuts and to support programs. "We thought we had $220 million to $250 million, but we lost $70 million because of reconciliation problems at the Department of Finance and Administration, then we had at least a $120 million hit when we found out the state was not meeting the federal government maintenance of effort requirements. We also had an issue with a tax incentive, which we expected to cost about $50 million, but we are already seeing $100 million in requests."
"We were pushing locally to make sure the government entity audits were done in time for the session, and then we find the state is not doing what it was supposed to," Morales said.
He listed the bills, which he sponsored and/or supported.
• Senate Bill 141 uses Law Enforcement Protection Fund money to provide protective vests for police dogs.
• SB 198 provides funding to replace the linear accelerator at Gila Regional Medical Center.
• SB 217 allows superintendents to enter into the first step of bonding funding prior to a School Board meeting, in order to speed up the process.
• SB 342 allows nurses or midwives to perform ultrasound procedures.
• SB 353 makes local government record indexing and protection consistent with language at the state level.
• SB 400 creates funding for statewide rural health work force program funding.
• SB 408 provides funding for Human Services Department primary care training.
• SB 417 provides funding for public humanities programs.
• SB 475, which he said, along with other items with educational components, was controversial, provides for evaluation of teacher competency in a fair manner.
• SB 495 is on the governor's desk awaiting signing and provides for New Mexico Finance Authority bonds for hospitals.
• SB 577 providing domestic violence services was funded through House Bill 2.
• SB 587 and 588 await the governor's signature for creation of a state school grades council and a teacher and principal evaluation system council.
Morales said having Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez on the House Appropriations Committee is a boost to the area and facilitated collaboration between the two of them.
Other items he supported, which passed and were funded include the Mixing Bowl Project for $300,000, of which Silver City is one of four communities in the state receiving the funding. Sexual Assault Victim Services was also funded across the state. The Western New Mexico University Nursing Program will receive $450,000. $100,000 was allocated to get students at the high school and middle school levels engaged in co-curricular activities across the state.
Several memorials he mentioned include a Senate Joint Memorial for a study of the A-F grading system for schools. "I'm not as optimistic that educational items will get signed," Morales said.
He lauded the Guadalupe Montessori School students who learned about testifying for bills.
SJM 40 passed to recognize 1 Billion Rising Day for those impacted by sexual violence. He said more than 1,000 individuals participated in a flash mob.
Senate Memorial 40 will give lower income homeowners protection, when they realize the payments they were making were not going to the rightful owners.
SM67 recognized athletic trainers.
"I am most proud when I have people from here to recognize throughout the session," Morales said.
The area also received in capital outlay $200,000 for the Bayard Cemetery; $182,000 for Hurley Roads; funding to move the Sheriff's Department Vault to the offices at the Administration Center; $4.3 million to demolish the old Fort Bayard hospital, "so we can utilize the area in a positive way"; lighting for the newly renovated Silver City fields; $169,000 to the WNMU Museum; funding for improving the technology at WNMU and $2.5 million for Light Hall renovations.
Morales said the notebooks provided by Prospectors are extremely useful, as the legislators can look up and find data quickly. He held up a folder full of papers that he said was "homework for me to meet with Priscilla (Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director and Health Council chairwoman)."
"I am hopeful that you will see how the work you've done (in the Health Council) will move us forward," Morales said. "At the last moment we were told that if a capital outlay request was under $50,000, it would be cut from the requests. On the last day, legislators added from the Tobacco Fund $10 million to early childhood programs and $10 million to lottery scholarships. They are just 'bandaids,' but the items should continue to be funded."
Health council member Mary Stoecker asked about funding for health councils. "I know one bill we were supporting through the Local Collaborative 6 was for school-based clinics."
Morales said he did not think councils were funded, but he wasn't sure. Stoecker said the request was for $1 million across the state. Tiffany Knauf, health council coordinator, said $195,000 was added to House Bill 2 for health councils to do assessments, with the training to be done by the Grant County council, because of having recently completed a successful assessment.
Health council member pediatrician Dr. Don Johnson said: "We didn't get everything we wanted for early childhood, but a percentage increase is good."
Evangeline Zamora, health council member from LifeQuest, thanked Morales for meeting with her and other members so frequently.
"Because of the information you provided, we could offer the information in intense negotiations," Morales said.
Council member Mike Trujillo asked about water going to Texas.
"For sure, no water is going to Texas," Morales said. "The money for a pipeline to Las Cruces was not in the capital outlay bill."
Council member Gila Regional Medical Center chief executive officer Brian Bentley thanked Morales for the bond to replace the linear accelerator to keep cancer treatment locally.
"Gun bills were a concern," Morales said. "They were heard on the Senate floor and died there."
Lucero asked how the lottery scholarship funding would affect those already in the tuition program. Morales said there should be no changes.
Lucero also asked about HB 2 junior funds. Morales replied that there were no junior funds this year. Lucero thanked her staff at the COG for helping other counties in the region who thought the questionnaire was the capital outlay request. "It is critical to get information to us before it's too late."
"We're finally getting signed agreements for last year's Colonias funding," Lucero said.
Morales said about $15 million would be available in the program this year, not counting matching funds.
Lucero said 10 applications went out from Grant County and another 10 from the surrounding counties.
Morales said he had a concern with the tax package that was passed at the last minute. "Part of it was my fault. Because of the threat of the veto I moved teacher funding. We have said no tax increase, but reduced corporate taxes will cause a $75 million difference, and more counties will have to put in tax increases. I don't like jeopardizing municipalities and counties. I'm definitely not in favor of the cuts."
The rest of the meeting will be covered in subsequent articles.