AARP New Mexico had a very successful legislative session as several priority measures it supported were signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez.
“A number of these bills will benefit large segments of the state’s population,” said Jackie Cooper, AARP NM State President. “We thank both the Legislature and the governor for addressing issues like health care and pension reform that have long-term effects on many New Mexicans.”
One of the issues that AARP was paying particular close attention to was legislation that addressed the solvency of two public employee retirement funds. The first bill, Senate Bill 115, addressed the Educational Retiree Board pension fund and was signed into law by the governor March 29 th. The ERB covers the retirement of all educational employees including teachers and other public education employees such as such as custodians, teacher aides, and counselors.
Senate Bill 27 addressed the Public Employee Retirement Association, which covers all other government workers. The governor signed that measure on April 5 th.
Both bills require employees making over $20,000 a year to contribute more to their retirement funds; changes the Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA; and changes the age of retirement, among others.
“What made this the perfect time to act on these funds is all the groups involved came together long before the session began and agreed to the changes. Everyone agreed to give up a little to ensure long-term solvency of the pension funds down the road. In today’s political climate that kind of compromise doesn’t always happen,” Cooper said.
“AARP is very pleased the governor decided to support these measures which amount to small changes at a time when a lot of governments are drastically changing retirement programs or doing away with them altogether,” she said.
Gov. Martinez also signed SB221, which establishes a health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill outlines the new system under which people, who do not have access to health insurance, will be able to access the exchange and purchase health care insurance.
Qualifications for Public Regulation Commissioners were also signed into law March 30 th. Voters in the November 2012 election approved the establishment of qualifications for the Commission.
SB8 outlines those qualifications as: having at least 10 years of professional experience in an area regulated by the commission or in the energy sector; or 10 years of combined professional experience and higher education resulting in a least professional license or a baccalaureate degree from an institution of higher education; or holding the office of commissioner on Jan. 1, 2012, among others.
Also signed into law is House Bill 131, which creates a Silver Alert, similar to an Amber Alert for missing children. The alert would be issued for missing people age 50 or older, who may be in danger due to some form of diminished mental capacity.
Senate Bill 153 establishes an Office of Guardianship Fund, which includes all funds, donations and income of the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council’s Office of Guardianship.
The governor April 5 also signed House Bill 2, which is the state’s budget bill. The budget contains $2 million for senior programs through the state’s Aging Network.
The budget also authorizes Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The decision means an additional 170,000 low-income adults will be eligible for health care under the joint federal-state program. The expansion will take effect in January 2014. More than 530,000 New Mexicans already receive health care through Medicaid.
One bill that did not make it off the governor’s desk was House Bill 83, a bill that would have allowed people to take a driver refresher course at an earlier age and be eligible for an insurance premium discount. Currently state law says that only people age 55 can take such courses, which are overseen by the state Department of Transportation. AARP sought to have that age lowered to 50.
“We’re disappointed that HB83 didn’t get signed as there really wasn’t a downside to lowering the age that we could see. The more people that can take a refresher course the more safe drivers we have out in the road. But we hope to meet with the governor’s staff in the near future and see what concerns there might be about the bill and move forward from there,” Cooper said.
"We also want to take a moment to thank our legislative volunteers who work very hard during the session and are responsible for moving several of these bills forward," she said.
Photo caption: AARP New Mexico Volunteer Pat Goulding hands out water during Senior Day activities at the state Legislature Jan. 24th. The event gave AARP an opportunity to share its legislative priorities with seniors from around the state.