This is representative democracy in action

Across New Mexico, dedicated individuals are working for causes you may never have heard of, but which just might benefit you or someone you care about. Many of them work for nonprofit organizations that hope to present proposals to the legislature, usually with a request for funding.

New Mexico Public Health Association’s annual conference is a gathering place for these groups, to share visions, build coalitions and seek the endorsement of NMPHA.

We will likely be hearing from at least a few of these groups during the upcoming 2020 legislative session. Here is a sampling of the causes they represent.

One ambitious proposal seeks to expand access to New Mexico grown fresh fruits and vegetables, already in the public schools, by requesting more money for the school program and adding a new program for low-income senior citizens. The senior program would provide vouchers that seniors could use at farmers’ markets. This has the double benefit of providing healthy food and supporting New Mexico agriculture.

The New Mexico School Nurse Association is asking to place a nurse and a social worker in every public school, pointing to New Mexico’s last-place national ranking in child well-being.

A coalition of several organizations is seeking to expand access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, asking for $500,000 to increase training for health-related professionals. The group cites New Mexico’s high rate of unintended teen pregnancies. New Mexico’s teen birth rate is  currently seventh highest in the US.

The state’s Center for Health Innovation is advocating development of improved open access to health related data. This effort received a one-time appropriation of $150,000 in 2019. The group is now seeking $350,000 in recurring funds (that is, support intended to continue year after year). The same group is asking for expansion of Area Health Education Centers to encourage more New Mexicans, including schoolchildren, to undertake health-related careers.

The Drug Policy Alliance proposes a demonstration project using injectable opioids for heroin users who have not succeeded with other treatments. Their proposal says this will be similar to permanent programs already operating in Canada, United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

New Mexico Chiropractic Association is asking for chiropractic services to be funded by Medicaid, arguing that chiropractic treatment is a way to reduce reliance on opioids for pain treatment.

There is a movement to amend the state constitution to divert money from the state land grant permanent fund for early childhood education. This has grown with the recognition that New Mexico needs major investment in the early childhood education. A group called Invest in Kids Now is named as the advocate for this proposal, representing an extensive coalition.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence is advocating for the policy known as a red flag law, formally called extreme risk protection order. This law would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals in crisis.

Some of these proposals had already been presented to legislative interim committees; some had legislative sponsors lined up. These advocates had done their homework and were offering to our volunteer legislators ideas and recommendations worth considering. The NMPHA itself will provide another layer of screening by choosing which proposals to endorse.

A few of these proposals stand a reasonable chance of being enacted into law. Most will probably never get past their first legislative committee. Collectively, they probably represent much more money than the legislature will be willing to commit, especially those asking for recurring funds.

This is how our representative democracy works quietly, year-round. Much legislation doesn’t begin at the legislature. It often begins months or years earlier, with the efforts of citizens who share their expertise, hammer out their issues and develop broad coalitions.

This kind of behind the scenes effort usually gets no publicity, but it how citizens participate in our state’s representative democracy.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2020


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