Anti-cancer bills get new focus

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

Activists are renewing their push for bills that target cancer screening and treatment in the wake of the death of Patty Jennings, the director of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool.

Jennings, wife of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, died this weekend after battling breast cancer. She was 53.

“We’re just going to be working as hard as we can to redouble our efforts,” said Traci Cadigan, New Mexico government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“I think it does bring about the devastation cancer can cause with the passing of Patty Jennings this weekend,” she said.

The group today will hold its lobby day at the Capitol to rally support for the cancer-related measures. Volunteers from around the state are set to meet with legislators about the bills, which include:

— SB 329, sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, which would allow an exemption for bars to the state’s indoor air act. That act currently prohibits smoking in bars. Anti-cancer advocates say the bill would weaken the air law, known as the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act.

“People who work in bars are even more in danger of the negative health effects of second hand smoke than the average worker,” said Nathan Bush, vice president for government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which opposes the measure.

— HB 742, which would increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, bringing the tax to $1.91 a pack. Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, is sponsoring the bill. State analysts expect the would generate $26.9 million for the general fund.

Currently, cigarette tax revenue goes to the Department of Health facilities, cancer research and treatment at the University of New Mexico, cities, counties and the UNM Health Sciences Center. The bill would maintain current funding levels for those beneficiaries, and money left over after that would go to the state’s general fund.

— HB 423, which would allocate $200,000 from the Tobacco Settlement Program Fund for breast and cervical cancer screening. Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the measure.

— SB 42, sponsored by Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, which would require a health plan to cover “routine patient care costs incurred as a result of the patient’s participation in cancer clinical trials.”

The group also is working to protect funding from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

Anti-cancer measures are frequently introduced in the Capitol, and some are gaining in popularity, Bush said.

“There’s more interest in cancer prevention this year because cancer prevention doesn’t usually cost the state,” Bush said. “If anything, it saves the state money.”

Lawmakers on Monday remembered Jennings, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

“Patty Jennings was a wonderful and loving mother and wife and a tireless and articulate advocate for the accessibility and availability of health care for all New Mexicans, especially children and adults with special needs,” Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez, D-Belen, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said in a joint statement. “She will be sorely missed,”

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or