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Wednesday News Roundup: New Mexico Senate Approves $6B Budget

New Mexico Senate Approves $6B Budget - The Associated Press

The Senate has unanimously approved a proposed $6.2 billion budget that would provide 3 percent pay raises next year for government workers and educators.

The budget is the main assignment for lawmakers in the 30-day session, which ends on Thursday.

The bill cleared the Senate on Tuesday and heads to the House.

The measure provides for a $293 million or 5 percent increase in spending on education and government programs next year.

Democrats and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez have been at odds over spending on the governor's education initiatives, including merit pay.

The Senate-passed budget adds extra money for the governor's school proposals and those provisions could face objections in the House.

New Mexico House OKs Navajo Gambling Compact - The Associated Press

A tribal-state gambling compact allowing the Navajo Nation to open three additional casinos is heading to the Senate but time is running out in the legislative session.

The House approved the proposal Tuesday on a 36-30 vote. Navajo officials are pushing for a Senate vote before the Legislature adjourns Thursday.

The Navajos operate two Las Vegas-style casinos in New Mexico under a compact expiring next year and a third casino offers low-stakes gambling not subject to state regulation.

The proposed compact would permit the Navajos to phase in three new casinos over 15 years.

The compact is opposed by some other pueblos and tribes, which worry their casinos will be hurt by a gambling industry expansion.

The compact must be approved by the Legislature and the Interior Department to take effect.

NM Lawmakers OK Ban On Texting While Driving - The Associated Press

A proposal to ban texting while driving in New Mexico has won final approval in the Legislature.

The bill heads to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who supports a statewide ban against texting by drivers.

The measure cleared its final hurdle in the Legislature on Tuesday when it passed the House 62-1. It was previously approved by the Senate.

The proposal will prohibit drivers from sending or reading text messages and emails, or making Internet searches from smartphones or other handheld wireless devices. There would be a $25 fine for a first violation and $50 for subsequent violations.

Forty-one other states ban texting by all drivers.

New Mexico already prohibits texting for teenage drivers with a learner's or provisional license.

NM House Passes 'Omaree's Law' - The Associated Press

The House has passed legislation that would allow New Mexico's child welfare agency to immediately take custody of children when there are certain signs of physical abuse.

The measure passed late Tuesday on a 52-11 vote and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

It's dubbed "Omaree's Law" for the 9-year-old Albuquerque boy allegedly kicked to death by his mother in December.

Police had contact with Omaree Varela and his family at least three times in the year leading up to his death. The reports were investigated but the Children, Youth and Families Department says it had no open cases at the time of the boy's death.

If the bill's adopted, legislative analysts estimate CYFD would need five times the resources it has now, including an additional 4,000 full-time employees.

Senate Proposes To Tap Liquor Tax For Scholarships - The Associated Press

The Senate has approved a proposal to shore up a lottery-financed college scholarship program with state liquor tax money.

The measure passed the Senate late Tuesday on a 31-11 vote and goes to the House with lawmakers set to adjourn Thursday.

The scholarships pay the full cost of tuition for high school graduates attending a New Mexico college or university.

The program is running short of money because tuition costs have grown faster than lottery revenue.

The bill will direct 39 percent of liquor excise tax collections to the scholarship program, about $19 million next year.

College freshmen and sophomores will continue to receive scholarships for 100 percent of tuition but a smaller percentage will go to future juniors and seniors based on the availability of money for the program.

No Welcome Mat In Albuquerque For 'Cops' Filming - The Albuquerque Journal 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque officials say "no way" to having their city depicted in upcoming episodes of the TV show "Cops" to be filmed in the county that includes New Mexico's most populous city.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a letter from city lawyers to Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston asks him to make sure the city's name isn't used and that its police officers and neighborhoods aren't shown.

A separate letter to Langley Productions Inc. says Albuquerque police and the city's film office won't cooperate with the production.

Saying it portrayed Albuquerque in a bad light, then-Mayor Martin Chavez banned "COPS" from working with Albuquerque police in 2001.

Current Mayor Richard Berry has continued that ban, but Houston announced Thursday that the show would start filming with his department in April.