*Editor’s note: A correction was made to clarify that an independent commission will oversee representation for abused and neglected youth.
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – From new funds for charter schools to raises for Native American language teachers, several new bills passed during the 2022 legislative session are going on the books. Here are some new laws of interest.
Expanding substance abuse harm reduction
Though not a new law on the books, the state will update its harm reduction laws. These are laws intended to help prevent overdose deaths and infections among people with substance abuse issues. The existing law in part allows the Department of Health to provide sterile equipment for drug users so that they are less likely to overdose or contract disease.
The new law comes as statistics show New Mexico has a relatively high overdose rate. In 2019, there were nearly 600 overdose deaths in New Mexico — that was nearly 40% higher than the nationwide average, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Legislative Finance Committee.
Previously, the Harm Reduction Act was primarily focused on syringe and needle exchanges. The new changes expand the act to focus on the larger goal of reducing deaths and illness. The changes add new “safe injection supplies” to the list of things the state can provide people going through substance abuse. This includes supplies to consume drugs in a safer and cleaner manner as well as supplies to test drugs for adulterants — potentially deadly substances mixed in.
Charter school changes
Under a new law, charter schools will have greater access to public, funds for capital improvements. In particular, the changes are designed to help charter schools get funding for building improvements.
Under the new law, school districts are required to offer unused land to charter schools for lease. In addition, the new law creates a revolving fund to help schools finance buildings via loans from the state.
Raises for Native American language teachers
In the 2022 legislative session, public school teachers got a pay boost. And they aren’t the only educators seeing a raise. A new law going into effect will also raise pay for certified Native American language instructors.
There are around 100 Native American language certified teachers working in the state, according to the Public Education Department. An additional 180 or so Native American language teachers are certified but not working, according to the department.
Pay for the certified language and culture instructors formerly depended on the district they taught in. In the Gallup McKinley School District, for example, certified instructors generally make somewhere between$34,600 per year and $40,700 per year, according to statistics compiled by the Legislative Finance Committee. Under the new law, they will now make a minimum of $50,000 per year — the same as entry-level licensed teachers in New Mexico.
Representation for abused and neglected youth
A new law going into effect May 15 will create the Office of Family Representation and Advocacy. The office will be in charge of helping families involved in abuse and neglect cases find legal representation.
The office will be overseen by a newly created independent 13-member Family Representation and Advocacy Commission. There will be five regional offices across the state to serve families.
Easy healthcare enrollment
The state is preparing to launch a program to help uninsured New Mexicans receive health insurance. The “Easy Enrollment Program” will help the state identify uninsured people in taxpaying households and, if they consent, provide them with information on healthcare eligibility.
The streamlined identification and enrollment process is aimed at helping the state’s uninsured in Medicaid or other insurance. As of 2019, there were roughly 187,000 uninsured people in New Mexico, according to a study from the Urban Institute. After accounting for people who might be eligible for insurance, around 100,000 New Mexicans could benefit from the program, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.
Starting May 15, the state will allow out-of-state veterinarians to practice in New Mexico under a temporary permit. The permit would be good for six months and the veterinarians would have to practice at a zoo or aquarium.
The state’s Board of Veterinary Medicine notes that there are relatively few zoo and aquarium vets in the state, according to a Legislative Finance Committee analysis of the bill. But, it’s not clear how many out-of-state vets might apply to practice in New Mexico.
Uranium mine cleanup
Under a new law going into effect, the state’s Environmental Department is tasked with leading the cleanup of old uranium mines. The new law also aims to establish uranium mine cleanup and reclamation as an industry to develop job opportunities and grow the economy.
It’s worth noting that many of the states old mines are already being cleaned up. Some are under federal cleanup programs, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.
The program will use existing state funds as well as federal funding to operate. Additionally, the law allows the office to receive gifts and donations to do its work.
More time for business recovery loans
The state’s Small Business Recovery Loan program is being extended. Thanks to legislation passed earlier this year, the window for applying for small business loans is extended for seven additional months. The deadline for applications now ends December 31, 2022.
More than $95 million in loans have already been approved, according to numbers from the New Mexico Finance Authority. The state launched the loan program in August 2020. It uses money the state collected from taxes on the oil and gas industry to help New Mexico businesses and nonprofits that struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Horse racing continues
The state’s Horseracing Act, which regulates the sport of horse racing, was set to end in July 2022. But lawmakers extended the repeal of the act. So, horse racing continues at the state’s five racetracks and the State Fairgrounds.
The state’s racing commission is also extended. The organization will continue overseeing races and equine drug testing.