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Lottery scholarship fix now law

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By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez signed a measure into law Wednesday to help avert possible reductions in a popular college scholarship program.

The program relies on revenue from the state lottery, and cuts loomed because lottery proceeds haven’t kept pace with increases in college tuition.

Nearly 18,000 New Mexico students receive the scholarships, which cover the full cost of tuition to attend a public college or university in the state. The state faced the prospect of trimming scholarship amounts without the changes approved by lawmakers and agreed upon by Martinez.

About $19 million in annual liquor tax money will supplement the scholarship program for two years starting in 2015. Until that happens, a newly enacted state budget provides extra money to keep the program solvent.

Currently, students who maintain a certain grade-point average can receive scholarships for up to eight semesters. That will be trimmed to seven semesters for new scholarship recipients as well as some students already receiving the aid.

The financial fix is only temporary. Lawmakers are expected to continue to debate whether to cap scholarship amounts in the future or change student eligibility to control rising program costs.

The governor used her line-item veto powers to resolve a wording error in the measure that could have forced students to wait an extra semester to get a scholarship.

Wednesday was the deadline for the governor to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature during its recent 30-day session.

Martinez also signed a measure to prevent high school graduation requirements from changing for students once they enter the 9th grade. The new law takes effect immediately and also permits marching band, athletics and other classes to meet physical education requirements for high school students.