Writing error could derail lottery bill

Posted at: 03/03/2014 5:10 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It’s just a little technical error – the wrong word in the wrong place – but it threatens to derail last-minute legislation to fix the state’s lottery scholarship program.

The bill passed the state Senate right before the clock ran out on the legislative session on February 20, but nobody realized there was a problem with the way it was written. In the last minute blizzard of bills nobody noticed the flawed language in an amendment to the long-awaited bill aimed at fixing the money-losing scholarship fund. The lawmaker who put the eleventh-hour deal together was stunned.

“When I first learned about this I was really heartbroken,” said Rep. Jason Harper, a Rio Rancho Republican.  “This was not my intent or the intent of the legislature. It’s a technical drafting error and I understand – it was late in the session and stuff like that can happen.”

The way it’s written, students won’t be eligible for the scholarships until their second year – not their second semester, the way it’s supposed to be. We’re talking thousands of college students here.

“The only reason I’ve stayed in New Mexico is the lottery scholarship,” said Annie Quick, a UNM student. “Without it? A lot of student loans!”

“My parents would probably not let me live on campus any more,” said student Rosalia Santillanes.

Lawmakers say Gov. Martinez could repair the flaw, by using her line-item veto power.

“To fix this problem she only has to strike four words in the entire bill,” Harper said. “That will solve the problem and the lottery scholarships will kick in the second semester just like the legislature and I intended.”

The lottery crisis runs deep in the red ink. For years lottery ticket sales have been flat, while demand for the scholarships is rising and tuition costs keep going up. The bill is not a permanent fix, but one that should get the scholarship fund through the next couple of years while lawmakers figure out a plan for the long term.

So – will the governor save the bill by fixing the flaw? This is an appropriations bill, so a line-item veto could work. She did ask lawmakers to fix the lottery mess, so it’s hard to see her saying “no” at this point. Phone calls to her staff were not immediately returned Monday.