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What's ahead? Health care, ethics and budget top list

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By Carol A. Clark

Citizens curious about the topics of this year’s 30-day legislative session, which begins Tuesday, filled Fuller Lodge Thursday evening for the annual legislative preview co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.“This is a budget session,” said Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe, who sits on both the Appropriations & Finance Committee and the Capital Outlay Committee. “You can only do budget items and what the governor puts on the agenda.”When you’re talking about a $6-billion budget, working to divvy up $364 million for all the demands out there is not that much to work with, she said.Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos is vice chair of the Finance Committee. “Our economy is starting to slow down,” Cisneros said. “A year ago, we had $500 million in new dollars. This year, we’re going in with about $365 million and as we go into the session, we recognize the demand for funding is going to exceed our abilities.”Highway maintenance is an issue Cisneros and Wallace expect the governor to push. Reduction in taxes is something Cisneros suggests will be considered as will ethics and campaign reform.The major topic of discussion at Thursday’s event was health care. Cisneros is sponsoring the Health Security Bill during the upcoming session. The bill sets up a New Mexico health insurance plan – like a cooperative – that is based on the old-fashioned concept of insurance, where some 1.6 million young, old, healthy and not-so-healthy New Mexicans share the risk.The plan creates an independent non-governmental commission to administer the Health Security Plan, Cisneros said. The commission would be geographically represented and publicly accountable, he said, adding that the plan does not require any new taxes.Several other health care proposals are anticipated at this year’s session, including Gov. Bill Richardson’s, which Cisneros said will cost some $500 million.HealthSOLUTIONS is the name of Richardson’s proposal, for which he says the goal is to achieve universal health coverage and improve access, cost and quality of health care while preserving roles for government, employers, commercial vendors providers, individuals and families.To reduce bureaucracy, the governor proposes crating a Health Coverage Authority.Dick Mason chairs the Health Care Committee for the League of Women Voters. He spoke at length on the subject and answered a variety of health care questions from the audience. The League supports a health care system that provides a comprehensive level of health care for New Mexico residents and wants to see the following in any plan that is approved:• Quality health coverage for all New Mexico;• effective cost management;• improvement of health care quality and safety;• equitable financing; and• simplified administration.Cisneros suggested Domestic Partner Legislation, which drove last year’s legislature into special session, also will be brought up again by Richardson. “There’s nothing extraordinary I can see this year,” Cisneros said. “The governor will most likely bring up the Rail Runner between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and I’m sure we’ll see a few sparks fly on that issue.”At Thursday’s forum, AAUW Facilitator Helena Whyte introduced the speakers and Rebecca Shankland of the LWV opened and closed the event.The Los Alamos branch of the AAUW advocates empowering women to take charge of their lives and supports advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy education and research.For information, access www.aauw-nm.org.The League of Women Voters of Los Alamos promotes the informed and active participation of citizens in government by means of public forums, publications and studies.This year’s legislative session opens at noon Tuesday and closes Feb. 14.The public is invited to meet state legislators and attend committee meetings by joining the LWV for their annual League Day at the Legislature Jan. 22.For information and carpool arrangements, access www.lwvlosalamos.org.