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Additional absences OK’d for teen moms

SANTA FE — Legislation to allow additional excused absences for pregnant high school students and students with children is headed to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk after passing the Senate late Wednesday.

House Bill 300 would allow pregnant students or to-be fathers to take as many as 10 days of excused absences from high school classes when their child is born. The bill would also allow pregnant students and high school parents to take off four days per semester for pre-natal or child care.

Parents would be required to make arrangements to make up missed work with their teachers.

The Senate voted 37-3 to advance the bill, which had already passed the House. The effort to accommodate teen parents in public schools comes while New Mexico struggles with one of the highest teen birth rates in the country.

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Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, said the bill would provide much needed support for teen parents who choose not to have an abortion.

“If we do not want young women to have abortions, then we must stand beside them and give them all the support we can in raising those children,” she said. “That’s why I stood in support.”

Opponents of the bill have voiced concern that the additional time off from school that the bill allows could be interpreted as rewarding teen parents.

“There used to be some sense of self-control, because people didn’t want to be in these positions; now it’s almost honorable,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington. “It does seem to me that we are trying to take away as many of the consequences of our actions as we possibly can.”

The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque.

In other legislative action:

– A proposal financing $274 million worth of capital improvements across New Mexico has won final approval in the Legislature. The projects range from state-owned building upgrades and school equipment to improving local athletic fields. It now goes to the governor, who has used her line-item veto powers to reject some individual projects in previous capital outlay measures.

– Voters would be allowed to make online changes to their voter registration information under a proposal passed by the Senate on Wednesday. It now heads to the governor for approval. The bill would not allow online registration for a first-time voter.

– Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed Rio Arriba County to seek a voterapproved property tax to pay for construction, renovation and other capital needs at Northern New Mexico College.

– Martinez also vetoed a proposed $5 fee for parking placards for the disabled. Part of the money from the fee would have supported the Governor’s Commission on Disability and its programs.

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