[Editor's Note: This is part 6 of a multi-article series on the Commission work session on April 11, as well as on the regular meeting on April 13, 2023. This article continues with the review of and a presentation at the regular meeting.]

Article by Mary Alice Murphy

Grant County commissioners at their regular meeting heard a 2023 Legislative Session update from District 28 Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill.

"We had a very good session," Hemphill said. "We passed a $9.5 billion budget. I'm very proud that we still maintained a 30 percent reserve, and we made progress toward diversifying our economy. We made a significant allocation toward water infrastructure, so we can start to get our Regional Water Plan project going and to bring in funding for recovery issues, too. We passed tax rebates, with $500 to be going to each single filer, and $1000 to those who file jointly. In the Senate we had just over $4 million in capital outlay and just under $600,000 for junior funds."

She said she was happy to hear all the proclamations. "I was happy to give $100,000 to the Tour of the Gila in junior funds, as well as $325,000 to Gila Regional to upgrade their telecommunications system. The Crisis Intervention Center construction at Tu Casa will receive $1 million. The Gila Community Center will have $75,000; $500,000 to law enforcement for vehicles and security, $32,626 to the Mimbres Senior Center, $75,000 to the Solid Waste Authority for a backhoe, and I provided $100,000 in junior funding for healthy food for distribution pantries and schools."

Hemphill noted that 211 bills had been signed by the governor out of more than 1,000 bills that were heard.

"I was proud to carry Senate Bill 70, which will provide $600,000 to our local COG (Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments) for four years to support water technical support, water management and coordination funds so that we can hire at least one person and maybe an assistant to help with the application process," Hemphill said. "The New Mexico Unit Fund has a little over $100 million funding capacity. The Water Trust Board has the initial consultation role now. The Water Trust Board has a very technical application, so it is a long process. There's been a delay in completing the applications, as well as getting them vetted at the state level. I worked with the State Engineer, and to streamline the process, we allocated $350,000 out of the New Mexico Unit Fund to the Interstate Stream Commission to increase their capacity, so they can not only come up with another application process, but also to have the capacity to quickly vet those projects, once the ISC receives them. Additionally, they will hire someone to administer the projects at the state level, so we will have increased capacity here with boots on the ground and at the state level, to get those funds allocated quickly. That was a huge win and took a lot of time, not only through the interim, but during the session. I have confidence we finally have a path forward there."

She also talked about other bills that she carried, including SB 334, carried by Sen. Crystal Diamond and herself to provide $2 million to Black Fire recovery. "We worked closely with Charlene (Webb, county manager) to make sure we have the funds here to respond to flooding and fire damage. We asked for $3 million; we got $2 million, so we'll go back next year and ask for another $2 million to make sure our communities have the funds to respond to these disasters."

"One of the bills I carried this year, which didn't go through, but I'll continue working on it was the Rural Crisis Fund," Hemphill said. "It is important that we have such a fund for rural communities that face crises."

Another bill that will be helpful to this community, she said, is SB 7, the Rural Health Care Delivery Fund, which will assist rural hospitals and clinics with losses and start-up funds. "The legislative and executive branches recognize how important it is to keep our local hospitals, like our Gila Regional Medical Center. And how important is not to have to travel great distances to get the care we need. I know it is the lifeblood of our community to give it viability."

SB 273 is the mental health recovery bill, which she sponsored along with Sen. Hickey, a retired physician. "We saw across New Mexico the challenges people were having with trying to get mental health care, with insurance caps and such. This bill will help every New Mexican get the mental health care they need."

SB 4 is the education bill, which puts funding toward every student having free healthy lunches.

SB 3, the Family Income Index, gives local schools more freedom in how their funding is spent and will also allocate funding to schools in the highest poverty areas.

SB 270 allocated $200,000 for schools wanting to participate in National History Day. "It's an amazing program that gives students a hands-on opportunity to research and present information on the incredible history of our state."

"And the highlight of my session was House Bill 431, the prosthetic device bill," Hemphill said. "If you've never had to get a prosthetic, you would assume insurance would pay for it, but that is not the case. My son had an amputation at age 4. When he was finally able to get a prosthetic, we got so excited, envisioning him being able to run around with his peers on the playground. That was not the case, the prosthetic weighed almost as much as he did. It was heavy and cumbersome. He could never use it functionally. This bill, which was signed into law, makes it mandatory for insurance companies to pay for prosthetics that are lightweight and will provide for children and adults, the same quality of life as their peers have. It was an emotional day for me. There was a little girl who was born without a leg, and now she will have a chance to run and jump and swim. It's a human right that she should have a prosthetic that will allow her to run and play. There was a fifth-grade student who testified in committee. There wasn't a dry eye in the committee."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he really appreciated all the hard work "you do up there. And I want to thank you for your communications, and for your always being there to answer and listening to your constituents. I appreciate your always being available. On Tuesday, we had a conversation on highway 35. I talked to our senator and to Priscilla Lucero (SWNM COG executive director), who hopes to have a safety study done. I know the state moves slowly, but thanks for listening and understanding the need."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne also expressed his thanks. "I especially want to thank you for your work on the water issue with the Water Trust Board and to get the program going. I appreciate your tenacity on getting them through."

"For full transparency, I worked with Rep. Nathan Small, who had just been named chairman of the Appropriations Committee," Hemphill said. "He was supposed to put the funding in HB 2, and I was quite disappointed when it came to the Senate and the funding wasn't there. So, I worked with the Lt. Governor (Howie Morales), who set up an appointment with the DFA (Department of Finance and Administration). DFA received $2 million for COGs across the state, and he agreed to honor that bill and give us the resources we need to make it happen. We know all across the state that, without a doubt, we have the best COG director in the state. We recognize how important it is to make sure she has the resources so she can do the job to the full extent of her ability."

"I also want to thank you commissioners for the work you do for our community," she said.

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she wanted to emphasize her appreciation for Hemphill's work on behalf of children. "New Mexico has been at the bottom of child well-being for more years than we should admit. One thing that struck me was when you said children and their families have to grovel in public to get services, whether to get prosthetics or healthy meals."

Hemphill said she wanted to emphasize that HB 131, the prosthetic bill, is the first one in the country. "So, we are leading the way."

She also noted that HB 191 will increase the Early Childhood Trust Fund, which started with $300 million to bring it up almost to $5 billion just a few years later. "We know how important a child's early years are, when they are setting up their nervous system for the rest of their life. The Early Childhood Education Department has grown from $30 million to $150 million so we will have an investment in those critical years to provide a huge benefit for New Mexico's children."

The next article will begin with the presentations at the regular meeting from applicants for the Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees.

For the previous articles, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77696-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-april-11-2023-part-1; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77752-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-april-11-2023-part-2; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77762-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-april-11-2023-part-3; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77764-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-april-11-2023-part-4; and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77791-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-april-11-2023-and-regular-meeting-on-april-13-2023-part-5.


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