The Senate Finance Committee tabled a bill to give the state $ 335 million of the $ 1.69 billion America Rescue Plan Act money on public health issues at a 6-1, but committee members advised lawmakers to bring the bill back to court regular session.
Sponsored by Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, Albuquerque, D, the bill, SB 9, would establish a public health school at the University of New Mexico by giving the UNM Governing Council $ 50 million to build a public health school facility will be provided at the UNM Health Sciences Center on campus.
State Senator Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, who is a co-sponsor, said a “school of excellence” in public health would attract top researchers who would bring scholarship funds and pay for the school itself with student enrollment.
Other funds would be used to pay for cancer treatment equipment; Expand Behavioral Health Services across the country, expand the nursing faculty, and pay the salaries and operating budget of the proposed public health school.
Another $ 10 million would go to the Department of Health to work with the UNM in providing obstetrics in Las Vegas and Gallup. Another $ 10 million would provide perinatal care across the state.
Ortiz y Pino said he wanted to see a more “transformative” use of the one-time ARPA funding.
“We were hoping that this opportunity to receive ARPA funding could be an opportunity to make some important innovations in the state,” he said.
State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said that when the Legislature saw HB 2 turning some ARPA funds to the agencies for immediate spending, “we were all a little disappointed”.
“HB 2 looks like a typical capital expenditure that is being reviewed by the LFC. I am not critical of their assessment. We are taking this golden opportunity to transform money and doing road projects and other projects we are used to seemed like a potentially wasted opportunity, ”said Cervantes.
Several of the committee members spoke at length about the need to support public health in the state, but some expressed concern about the timing of the bill and suggested sponsors bring it back at the regular meeting.
Other concerns included that much of the funds would go to the University of New Mexico, not New Mexico State University, or that the funds would not be paid out across the state.
Dr. Tracie Collins, former health department secretary and dean of UNM Population Health, said the bill “contains NMSU”.
Hickey said the bigger idea behind the bill was that the UNM would work with the NMSU and Eastern New Mexico University and Western New Mexico University. However, Hickey said he was unable to contact either the ENMU or the WNMU about the idea. He did not make it clear whether NMSU had been approached.
State Senator Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said he would like to know if the UNM Governing Council is calling for this program.
“I think that’s a bit premature. I don’t think we have to respond now. You gave us a good idea. I can’t support it right now. I think we have to take it a little further, ”he said.
Senator Jacob Candelaria from Albuquerque, Robert Gonzales from Ranchos de Taos, Siah Correa Hemphill from Silver City, all Democrats, and Senator Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, were absent. State Senator Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, was the only no-vote.