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First bill rides in on the fast track

SANTA FE – With just a day to spare, Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Thursday adding New Mexico to a multistate compact that will allow nurses licensed elsewhere to continue practicing here.

She signed the measure, Senate Bill 1, as lawmakers from both parties looked on – a few hours after the House endorsed the proposal earlier in the day. The Senate had approved it Wednesday.

“This is the way, I think, state government should operate,” Martinez said.

It’s rare for a bill to move through both chambers and reach the governor’s desk so quickly. This year’s legislative session started at noon Tuesday.

But New Mexico faced a deadline at the end of the day today – either sign onto the new nursing compact or lose the traveling nurses who practice in the state. A previous compact that had allowed the nurses to work in New Mexico is expiring, replaced by the new one.

Supporters said approval of the compact was essential because nurses working under the multistate agreement make up as much as 80 percent of the workforce at some hospitals, especially in rural and border areas.

“This is critical to get passed,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told her colleagues.

Senate Bill 1 was sponsored jointly by Sens. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs; Howie Morales, D-Silver City; and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.

They faced their biggest challenge in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where a variety of members expressed concern that New Mexico is ceding too much authority over nurses to an unelected multistate commission.

The bill was amended to make it clear the group would be subject to New Mexico’s public records law, among other changes.

But Kernan and Morales objected, noting that the compact must be accepted without changes and that the amendments to the bill might be seen as a backdoor attempt to change how the agreement works.

Morales said Thursday that the concerns about the compact deserve “to be looked into in a deeper fashion” and that separate legislation may be proposed to address them.

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