- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The state will increase the benefits provided to family members of firefighters who die in the line of duty under legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Under the new law taking effect in July, the surviving spouse or children of a firefighter will receive $250,000 from the state rather $50,000. Surviving parents will receive the payment if there is no spouse or child.

About 8,000 to 9,000 volunteer and career firefighters are covered by the death benefit program, according to State Fire Marshal John Standefer. The payments also would go to survivors of qualified wildland firefighters.

The increased amount is similar to the state benefits for survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

The survivor’s payment for firefighters is in addition to any death benefit from insurance or worker’s compensation coverage provided by cities or counties employing the firefighter. The federal government also provides a payment to firefighters killed in the line of duty.

The governor also signed measures:

- Requiring schools in high poverty areas to provide free breakfast to students after their school day starts. Such “breakfast after the bell” programs already are required for elementary schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. The new mandate for middle schools and high schools doesn’t take effect until the Legislature funds the programs, however.

- Granting a fee waiver for home school or private school students taking dual credit courses at colleges. Public school students currently don’t pay college fees for taking a dual credit course, which provides credit toward high school graduation and at the college. The state provides partial funding to colleges for offering dual credit courses, however.

- Allowing the New Mexico Finance Authority to make loans for nearly 130 city, county, school district and other governmental capital improvements. The authority functions like a bank for governmental infrastructure.

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