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Drunk or stoned on the job? No problem in New Mexico

By   /   February 18, 2013  /   3 Comments

DRUNK ON THE JOB: In New Mexico, workers can test positive for drugs and alcohol but still qualify for workers’ comp if they injure themselves on the job.

 

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Employees who injure themselves on the job while drunk or under the influence of drugs can continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits because a legislative move to deny such claims has stalled.

Proponents say refusing such payouts is simple common sense.

“I believe it’s a personal responsibility question,” said Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, after his House Bill 139 was tabled in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee on a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting to table the bill and all four Republicans voting against.

The case dates back to 2006 when a city sanitation employee in Las Cruces named Edward Villa fell off his garbage truck and injured his head, wrists and a hip. Some three hours after Villa hurt himself, he was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .12, well above the .08 limit in New Mexico for being legally drunk.

But because of a lack of clarity in the interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act, an appeals court ruled that Villa was entitled to 90 percent of his workman’s compensation claim, which cost taxpayers in the city of Las Cruces about $90,000.

Working with the court system, Roch introduced HB139 to streamline legal contradictions while including drug abuse as well as alcohol abuse in rejecting potential workers’ comp claims.  The bill was approved by the Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Disease.

Roch says the bill would only apply to workers’ compensation benefits and not touch the medical benefits that would go to an injured worker.

But Democrats on the committee, including Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, of Grants, and committee chairman Miguel Garcia, of Albuquerque, voted to table HB139 – essentially killing the bill.

STUCK IN NEUTRAL: A bill aimed at preventing employees who injure themselves on the job if they abuse alcohol or drugs has been effectively killed in the New Mexico House of Representatives. New Mexico Watchdog photo.

“It was kind of overbearing and punitive in terms of the worker,” Garcia told New Mexico Watchdog, adding, “You’re also dealing with issues of family members who are heirs to entitlements.”

But Roch countered, “We have to protect all the other workers who are on the job site and their families.

“Because you have one guy or one gal that comes to work under the influence, and they drive a forklift and they run over a colleague, who, through no fault of their own, is put in harm’s way, that’s the folks we have to protect. So this is about workplace safety as much as anything else.”

Roch says labor union opposition to the bill influenced Democrats on the committee.

“Ultimately the members of the labor committee who voted to table it are watching organized labor representatives for their cue on how to vote on this,” Roch said. “It’s unfortunate.”

A bill that has been tabled can theoretically be brought back to life if a member on the House floor calls for bringing it off the Speaker’s table to debate the legislation, a practice called “blasting” a bill. But Roch told New Mexico Watchdog he’s not planning to do that.

“If there’s political capital to be spent, I think there are places we can spend it and get more bang for the buck,” Roch said.

The reaction to the bill’s tabling in its very first committee hearing has produced criticism, including an opinion piece in the Las Cruces Sun-News saying the committee’s decision perpetuates a situation that “simply defies sense.”

The committee decision has prompted the introduction of a bill in the Senate that largely mirrors Roch’s tabled bill.

“We introduced it on the Senate side to keep the debate going,” said state Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, of his Senate Bill 465. “It’s just common sense. If you show up to work drunk or on drugs and you hurt yourself, the taxpayers and the workman’s comp fund shouldn’t be paying you off.”

But as of Monday, there were just 27 days left in the 60-day session, and SB465, which has been assigned to be first heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not been heard yet.


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Concact Rob Nikolewski at rob@nmwatchdog.org.

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Rob Nikolewski is the National Energy Corrrespondent for Watchdog.org. He is based in Santa Fe, N.M. Contact him at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @NMWatchdog.

  • markgl

    And yet no surprise that another liberal bill has some wrong doing in it so that the people can continue to screw the taxpayers out of more money we don’t have.

  • sfgiantsfan921

    But if I’m reading this correctly, all four Republicans voted against the bill. So now whose fault is it?

  • markgl

    I’m referring to the Workers’ Compensation Act, you’re referring to the House 109. And yeah I’m not picking sides for GOP members. If they voted against it, then they’re idiots. I’m just saying all these compensation bills always give money to the people that abuse it and shouldn’t receive it in the first place.

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