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Legislative Roundup, Feb. 23, 2017

February 24, 2017 GMT

Days remaining in session: 23

Signed: Staving off a breakdown in the state justice system, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez signed a bill Thursday to provide short-term funding for New Mexico’s courts.

Sanchez was acting as the state’s executive while Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to Washington, D.C., for meetings of the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association.

Sanchez’s signing of House Bill 261 ends a battle over the judiciary’s budget that had dragged through the 60-day legislative session.

The bill includes $1.6 million to pay for jury trials through the end of the fiscal year in June and $80,000 to avoid furloughs at the state Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Charles Daniels had warned that, without the money, courts around the state would be unable to afford trials by March 1.

But when Democrats in the Senate attached the court funding two unrelated bills, Martinez vetoed each measure. Martinez suggested that her administration needed to adequately vet the judiciary’s request. The Republican-sponsored bill that Sanchez signed includes about the same amount of money the courts had been requesting for months.

With the Legislature in session, the governor only had three days to act on the bill. Enter Sanchez, who is acting as governor while Martinez is in Washington.

Martinez is scheduled to attend a meeting at the White House with governors from around the country and join other governors in meeting with Tom Price, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. The Republican Governors Association is paying for her travel.

Lottery scholarship fund: State senators voted 24-17 Thursday to eliminate the guarantee that 30 percent of lottery ticket sales go toward funding college scholarships.

The sponsor, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said Senate Bill 192 is intended to increase prizes for lottery scratch games on the hope that this eventually will generate more money for the scholarship program. Smith said Texas, Colorado and Arizona have higher lottery payouts than New Mexico, so a change is necessary to keep New Mexico’s lottery sales competitive.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she voted for the bill because it has a five-year sunset clause. If the new system doesn’t work, it can be scrapped, she said.

But Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said Smith’s bill is too risky for a simple reason.

“The minimum required distribution to college scholarships is zero,” Ivey Soto said.

Smith had a similar lottery bill last year, but Ivey-Soto amended it to require that $41 million a year be designated for college scholarships. The new legislation does not contain any such provision.

Smith’s bill goes next to the House of Representatives, where Democratic Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces will carry it.

Quote of the day: “Democracy is very inefficient and messy. I think we need to embrace that sometimes.” — Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, in opposing a bill to bar public inspection of outstanding unpaid warrants. The measure, Senate Bill 158, advanced to the House of Representatives.

Looking ahead: The annual charity basketball game between the Senate and the House of Representatives tips off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Santa Fe High School gym.

Proceeds go to The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. Admission to the game is free, but donations are accepted. During the past six years, the event has raised more than $100,000, according to the center.

The Senate has the two top players in the Legislature in Bill O’Neill of Albuquerque and Howie Morales of Silver City. Senators have won the game in each of the last three years.

•Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Deming Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate Minority Floor Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, will discuss the legislative session and state government’s funding crisis with Lorene Mills on this weekend’s Report from Santa Fe, which airs on PBS stations in New Mexico, including an 8 a.m. Sunday broadcast on KNME-TV, Channel 5.1.

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