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Politics lets comp benefits flow to substance-abusing workers

When a worker is injured on the job, workers’ compensation coverage provides important benefits until that individual can return to work.

However, when a worker is injured because he or she is impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs, common sense demands a reduction in these benefits. Furthermore, a recent Albuquerque Journal poll revealed that two-thirds of New Mexicans believe that impaired workers should have their benefits reduced.

Apparently, the Democratic leader of the New Mexico State Senate didn’t agree.

I sponsored House Bill 238, which would have authorized a workers’ compensation judge to reduce benefits – as little as 10 percent and as much as 90 percent – for an impaired worker. The bill included language endorsed unanimously by the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council, which is made up of delegates from both labor and business.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 19. Yet it languished in the Senate for nearly a month without a committee hearing. Then, even after finally clearing two Senate committees, it was pulled from consideration on the Senate floor.

So, what prevented this common-sense legislation from being enacted this year?

It certainly wasn’t a lack of bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. On the contrary, the bill passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 64-2.

No, the fault lies in the Washington-style gridlock perpetrated upon New Mexico by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

But don’t just take my word for it; the senator himself remarked that bills go to the Senate “to die.”

It’s incredibly disappointing that due to the petty political games of Sen. Sanchez, employers across New Mexico will continue to have to pay benefits to workers who show up for work drunk or high. What’s worse is that these impaired workers don’t just put themselves at risk – they jeopardize the safety of every man and woman on the job site!

I strongly believe that people need to be held accountable for their actions. That’s why I sponsored the bill in the first place, and it’s why New Mexico needs to hold Sanchez accountable for the gridlock that prevented this common-sense legislation from becoming law.