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Thursday, March 6, 2003

Around the Roundhouse

Staff and wire reports
    AMBER ALERT PLAN ADVANCES
    SANTA FE The House approved a proposal Wednesday for the state to operate an Amber Alert system to help locate missing children.
    The measure will place into law a system that the State Police have established in cooperation with broadcasters in New Mexico.
    Amber Alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered. They are bulletins distributed through radio and television broadcasts about kidnapped children and their abductors.
    The House unanimously passed the bill and sent it to the Senate, which has endorsed a similar proposal.
   

    LIQUOR TAX PLAN FAILS IN SENATE
    SANTA FE A last-ditch effort to salvage a proposal to raise the tax on liquor failed Wednesday on the Senate floor.
    The "nickel-a-drink" bill, sponsored by Sen. Allen Hurt, R-Waterflow, would have raised the excise tax on beer, wine and hard liquor by the equivalent of five cents per drink.
    The additional $38 million in revenue to the state annually would have been earmarked for health programs, including trauma centers, help for people with traumatic brain injuries, nurse training and alcohol-abuse prevention.
    Critics said that the increases would make New Mexico's liquor tax rates the highest in the nation and that the proposal should be studied further by the panel slated to review New Mexico's tax system.
    The Senate voted to kill the bill on a vote of 26-10.
   

    HOUSE PASSES KINDERGARTEN BILL
    SANTA FE New Mexico would establish a pilot program of extended kindergarten programs for schools in high-poverty areas under a measure approved by the House on Wednesday.
    Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the "kindergarten plus" programs would extend the school year by four months for participating students.
    The program is to help students who start school with lower literacy and social skills.
    The pilot program would initially target the Albuquerque, Gallup-McKinley, Gadsden and Las Cruces school districts.
    The bill passed the House 65-1, and was sent to the Senate.
   

    LOTTERY AID MAY BE EXPANDED
    SANTA FE New Mexico students attending tribal colleges could receive a lottery scholarship from the state under a measure approved by the House.
    The legislation by Rep. Nick Salazar, D-San Juan Pueblo, would expand eligibility for the scholarship program, which was started in 1997 and is financed with proceeds from the state lottery.
    Under the legislation, students attending Dine College, the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute would become eligible for the scholarship program.
    Crownpoint Institute of Technology would be able to participate once the school becomes accredited.
    The bill passed the House 64-3 and was sent to the Senate.
   

    PAYDAY LOAN PLAN ENDORSED
    SANTA FE Companies that make payday loans would be required to file annual reports with the state under a bill passed by the Senate.
    "This has been a problem for consumers," said Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, the bill's sponsor.
    "I think the data collection will provide us with a clear idea of what's really going on with this industry."
    The bill went to the House on a vote of 18-12.
    Payday loans are short-term loans with very high interest rates that opponents say target the poor and trap some people in an endless cycle of debt.