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Governor signs lottery scholarship measure

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SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez signed a solvency fix Wednesday for New Mexico’s popular lottery scholarship program, but used her veto pen to scuttle legislation that would have set up a new appeal process for horse racing doping cases.

Wednesday was the deadline to act on bills approved during the 30-day legislative session that ended Feb. 20.

Of the 91 bills approved by the Legislature, Martinez signed 81 measures and vetoed eight. She also pocket-vetoed two bills by not acting on them.

The scholarship bill, which lawmakers approved in the session’s final hours, calls for stricter eligibility guidelines – most students at four-year universities will have to take at least 15 credits per semester – and a three-year infusion of state tax dollars.

With an additional $11 million in immediate funding, it also means roughly 18,500 students won’t face cuts this semester.

“I’m pleased that a bipartisan solution was reached to protect the lottery scholarship for students currently in their spring semesters, and I believe we’ve begun the process of instituting reforms to the scholarship to ensure that students will be able to receive significant tuition assistance for years to come,” Martinez said in a statement.

The governor used her line-item veto power to delete a technical glitch in the lottery scholarship bill that could have led to an unintended tuition gap for students.

Other bills signed Wednesday by Martinez included a measure to create five new judgeships around the state – including one in each in Albuquerque and Santa Fe – and one that will allow commercial driver’s license applicants to take the written test an unlimited number of times. They have been limited to no more than three times per year.

“The current law is preventing good, skilled drivers from getting jobs if they are poor test-takers, but good drivers,” said sponsor Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec.

The vetoed horse racing bill would have required the State Racing Commission to hire attorneys as hearing officers to make decisions on license suspensions or revocations in drug cases, and authorized appeals from those decisions to state District Courts. Martinez objected that the bill took too much power away from the commission and vested too much authority in the hearing officer.

This year’s veto rate – 10 vetoes of the 91 bills sent to the governor’s desk – was lower than that of the previous 30-day session, in 2012, when 13 of 77 approved bills were vetoed.

Among this year’s vetoed bills were measures:

  • Reorganizing the state’s Water Trust Board – increasing the Legislature’s power to appoint members – and authorizing spending on more than 60 water projects around the state. Martinez said the bill undermined current efforts of the board.
  • Creating a three-year project to provide behavioral health services to jail inmates in Luna, Grant and Hidalgo counties. Martinez said it duplicated existing services.
  • Requiring school districts where more than 75 percent of students are Native American – Dulce, Gallup-McKinley County, Central Consolidated and Zuni – to consult with tribal leaders on transportation boundary disputes. Martinez cited possible constitutional violations as well as technical problems.
  • Diverting half the extra money in the Metropolitan Court Bond Guarantee Fund to the Administrative Office of the Courts for magistrate court leases, instead of having it all go to the Traffic Safety Bureau for DWI programs. Martinez objected to the diversion.
  • Extending until 2019 the $4 magistrate court operations fee that ends this year. Martinez said now that the state is financially healthy, the operations can be financed from general funds.
  • Exempting certain Native American Medicaid recipients from mandatory enrollment in Medicaid managed care.
  • Allowing school districts and charter schools to offer summer civics courses and programs that would count toward graduation credits.

Journal staff writer John Fleck contributed to this report.

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