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Senate could vote on ‘no confidence’ on Sidonie Squier

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SANTA FE – The Senate could vote this session on a highly unusual “no confidence” resolution aimed at Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier.

The measure, backed by most of the chamber’s Democrats, attacks Squier for her handling of the behavioral health brouhaha and a comment she made about hunger in New Mexico.

It says the Senate has lost confidence in Squier’s “ability to lead the department and administer the programs critical to the health and well-being of New Mexicans.”

A spokesman for Squier, Matt Kennicott, called the resolution “unfortunate, and blatant, political grandstanding.”

The state Senate in the past has on occasion rejected a governor’s Cabinet appointee, but Capitol veterans could not remember any similar no-confidence measure.

The resolution, if passed, would have little or no practical effect on the tenure of Squier, an appointee of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez who was confirmed by the Senate three years ago.

But it’s a public rebuke that continues to shine a light on the behavioral health issue and could serve as a warning that Squier could have trouble being confirmed again.

Under a 2008 change to the state Constitution, Martinez’s Cabinet secretaries would face Senate confirmation again if the governor were re-elected this year.

Squier pulled the plug on Medicaid funding last year to 15 New Mexico nonprofits that provided services to the mentally ill and addicted, saying an audit by a Boston company showed overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud.

Twelve of the providers closed their doors and were replaced by Arizona companies brought in by the HSD. The attorney general has been investigating the 15 for possible fraud and has cleared one provider.

The resolution, signed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and at least 15 others says Squier “has effectively dismantled the state’s already fragile behavioral health care system and threatened the well-being of New Mexicans.”

The HSD’s Kennicott said in an email, “We take protecting Medicaid funds very seriously, and believe they should be used to support the most vulnerable New Mexicans.”

The resolution also criticized Squier for her email comment in September that there isn’t, and hasn’t been, any significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico. Squier, who administers food assistance programs, later apologized to legislators, saying the email was poorly worded.

“I think it’s time to make a point,” Majority Leader Sanchez told the Journal . He criticized Squier for walking out on a legislative hearing in July after three hours of questioning.

Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, objected to the resolution, saying it served no real purpose and critics should talk to directly to Squier if they have problems with her.

“Say face-to-face, ‘We don’t think you’re doing a good job,’ ” he said.

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