April 3, 2003
Governor Signs Bills for Military Benefits
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE Benefits ranging from free fishing for returning soldiers to free college tuition for survivors of those who don't come home were signed into law Thursday.
Gov. Bill Richardson said he wants troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to know "we're solidly behind them, and that the state of New Mexico appreciates everything they're doing."
The new law, effective immediately, applies to National Guard members and to New Mexico members of the armed forces who are called to active duty and deployed.
They would be eligible for free hunting and fishing licenses for a year after their return home a proposal Richardson said was "immensely popular" among the troops.
They would also get an extra year to file state tax returns and an extra month after they get home to renew their driver's licenses.
Tuition credits or refunds would be provided to those whose schooling at state colleges or universities was interrupted.
And children of those killed in the line of duty would get tuition waived for four years at state post-secondary institutions.
Maj. Gen. Randall Horn, adjutant general for the New Mexico National Guard, said the new law shows soldiers and airmen "how much their state is behind them, is supporting them."
"It's a very, very important thing," Horn said.
Horn estimated there are about 700 New Mexico National Guard members deployed throughout the world since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about 100 of them in the area of Iraq.
Richardson said he also has authorized an extra 15 days of military leave for the troops when they return.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said she and Richardson had attended the recent memorial service for Air Force 1st Lt. Tamara Long-Archuleta of Belen.
The 23-year-old woman was the co-pilot of a helicopter that crashed during a medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan.
"It just brought home what the risk really is, and what the sacrifice really is to families," Denish said.
It was unclear whether the college tuition provision would apply to the 3-year-old son of Long-Archuleta, who died before the bill became law. But a spokesman for Richardson said after the news conference the governor would make every effort to get the child covered by the benefit.