- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Certain New Mexico foster children will be able to attend college in the state without paying tuition and fees under legislation signed into law Monday by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The new law will grant a tuition waiver at New Mexico’s public colleges or universities for some high school graduates who were in the state’s foster care system or in the legal custody of an American Indian tribe. Among those potentially eligible would be youth in foster care when they become age 18 and those who were adopted after turning 14.

“Improving student achievement is one of my most important priorities, and that includes opening up opportunities for higher education to more New Mexico students,” Martinez said in a statement. “Ensuring more children who grow up in foster care can go to college is a strong step in the right direction.”

At least 21 states offer tuition waivers for foster children, according to the National Resource Center for Youth Development.

The state Children, Youth and Families Department, which administers New Mexico’s foster care system, reported that 316 New Mexico students turned 18 while in foster care between 2010 and 2013. And 118 foster children ages 14 to 18 were adopted during that time.

The tuition measure, sponsored by Democratic Sen. George Munoz of Gallup, unanimously passed the Legislature. The law takes effect May 21.

Martinez also signed bills that will:

- Increase liquor tax revenue going to local drunken-driving prevention programs for three years.

- Allocate $2 million for the New Mexico Finance Authority to provide grants to communities for planning infrastructure, including water projects

- Give businesses more time to potentially reduce their tax liability after experiencing an operating loss. Businesses will be able carry forward a net operating loss for 20 years, rather than five years currently, to apply it against profits in a future year and reduce income tax liability. Martinez said the change puts New Mexico’s tax policy on an equal footing with neighboring states such as Arizona and Colorado.

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