And … they’re off.
Gov. Bill Richardson helped kick off the 30-day legislative session with his State of the State address Tuesday in Santa Fe.
The governor touched on a variety of issues during his speech, including DWI legislation, an early childhood education program and cuts to taxes on food and medical services.
Area legislators’ reaction to the first day of the session and the governor’s speech was mixed.
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she thought the governor’s speech was “very ambitious.”
“I promise you he (the governor) won’t be able to do everything on his agenda unless he’s a magician,” Crook said.
Many of the issues Richardson addressed during his speech lawmakers had heard before, Crook said.
“There were no real surprises,” she said.
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, said it seemed as if Richardson was trying to extend his hand to lawmakers. Moore’s district includes Quay County.
“It was evident that everyone doesn’t agree,” he said. “There were some periods when there was no applause. He (Richardson) is trying to make all of the pieces fit, but sometimes our pieces are different than his.”
Crook said the governor said the state would have a balanced budget.
“We don’t have a choice, the constitution says we have to have a balanced budget,” she said.
The popular New Mexico scholarship that is expected to be the subject of much debate throughout the session is already a hot topic among lawmakers.
Rep. Earlene Robertson, R-Lovington, whose district includes Roosevelt County, said she is not behind the governor’s proposal to use a portion of lottery funds for need-based financial aid for students.
“From those (lawmakers) I have talked to, they are not for it,” Robertson said.
Moore has plans to rework parts of the scholarship.
A bill of his would allow students who don’t attend college for 18 months after graduating from high school to retain eligibility for the scholarship.
Currently, students have to enroll in a public college or university in New Mexico the fall semester after they graduate from high school to be eligible for the funds.
Moore also wants families who live in New Mexico, but whose children attend high school in Texas to be able to qualify for the scholarship.
“There are probably only a dozen families like that,” he said.
Students whose family members are state residents could attend high school 100 miles from the New Mexico border to qualify for the scholarship under Moore’s new legislation.
He said it would be introduced sometime this week.
Since 1997 the current program has provided some 22,000 tuition scholarships to students.
Moore’s other bill
Moore will also introduce a bill this week that would provide $180,000 to improve New Mexico State University’s Ag and Science Centers at numerous locations across the state.
Moore said there is money to build the centers, but none to improve them.
“The funding for the buildings would happen every year,” he said.
He said there are NMSU Ag and Science Centers in Tucumcari and Clovis.
Quote of Note
“I don’t want to mess the Lottery Scholarship up. If we tap into it those who will suffer will be the working families.” – Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington.
A committee hearing will be held for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.