SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Friday, February 3, legislators are set to tackle a range of bills. Among those on the agenda are a bill that would increase access to STI testing, a bill to fund art school with oil and gas money, and a bill to increase scholarship opportunities for students.

STI testing

You’ve probably heard about some of the common sexually transmitted infections (STIs): syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc. But did you know STI infection rates have been on the rise both nationally and in New Mexico?

“New Mexico and the entire nation have seen stark increases in the rates of the three reportable sexually transmitted infections (STI) over the past decade. These are syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia,” New Mexico’s Department of Health notes in an analysis. Now, a bill in the Roundhouse could “increase preventive care and treatment, thereby breaking the cycle of infections and helping reduce rates over time.”

Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Democratic Senators Mimi Stewart (Abq.) and Kristina Ortez (Taos), aims to tackle infection rates by expanding STI testing. The bill would require health insurance to cover STI testing without co-pays (i.e. reduce the cost of STI testing). The bill would also specify that there’s no minimum age limit for consenting to STI testing or care.

Oil-to-art pipeline

Another bill scheduled for debate would use oil and gas funds to support art students. House Bill 99, sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe), would put some state money earned from oil and gas production towards students’ room and board at the New Mexico School for the Arts.

In essence, the bill would put $2 million per year towards those students. The tradeoff, though, is that the $2 million would not go to the state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department, where it currently goes. According to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee, this would reduce the Early Childhood Education and Care Department account “marginally.”

Another attempt towards “school choice”

New Mexico’s legislators are trying to figure out ways to improve K-12 education across the state. One idea was to create “educational freedom accounts” that would allow parents to use public funds to pay for private school.

The bill proposing “educational freedom accounts” stalled out after some intense debate. But now, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Abq.) is trying a slightly different approach to reach a similar goal of expanding school choice.

Senate Bill 113 would provide scholarships of up to $5,000 to allow low-income students to attend schools chosen by parents. The funding for those scholarships would come from tax donations.

The bill would create tax credits for individuals and corporations who make donations to the scholarship fund. Under the bill, individuals could recoup up to 80% of their donations.

In case you missed it: Prescribed burns, DWI tests

Yesterday, legislators showed support for a bill to try to prevent out-of-control prescribed burns. On the heels of the largest fire in New Mexico history, which occurred last year after a prescribed burn spun out of control, the Senate Conservation Committee considered a bill that would prohibit prescribed burns in the months of March, April, and May, when a Red Flag Warning has been issued by the National Weather Service.

The committee was sympathetic to the desire to prevent tragic fires. And after some clarification that the bill wouldn’t do much to limit the ability of ranchers or other private individuals to burn weeds, the committee recommended the bill move forward. You can read more about it in this KRQE News 13 story.

Lawmakers also recently debated the use of blood tests for DWI stops. House Bill 158 clarifies who can perform a blood test, that blood tests can be used to detect alcohol or drugs like cannabis, and that in order to get the blood test, police have to get a search warrant.

The exact details of the bill are still being worked out. The House Transportation, Public Works & Capital Improvements Committee asked the bill sponsors – Andrea Reeb (R-Clovis) and William “Bill” R. Rehm (R-Abq.) – to adjust some wording before moving the bill forward. For more info on that bill, check out this KRQE News 13 story.