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As the representative from House District 34 in southern Dona Ana County, I know many New Mexicans may not be familiar with the legislative district I represent. The communities of La Mesa, San Miguel, Brazito, Chamberino, La Union, Sunland Park and Mesquite are home to good, hard-working people -- many of whom are first- and second-generation Americans. The people I represent live in marginalized communities, and they have experienced a disproportionate impact from the effects of COVID-19.
My constituents fight to better their lives through hard work and education. They dream of their children graduating from high school and going to college, all the while demanding a better life for their children. For many, that is why they came to the United States, especially those who have been historically excluded from the opportunities so many of us enjoy. The Legislature has acted during the last 25 years to build up some forgotten communities, but not all of them.
Years ago, with the creation of the Lottery Scholarship, New Mexico made a promise of free college for all New Mexico students who work hard and persevere in higher education. Unfortunately, the state has fallen short on making the dream of college a reality for all our kids because it’s simply not had enough funding.
An underfunded lottery scholarship hurts students who come from marginalized communities the most. These students are the ones who cannot afford to make up the gap between a partially funded scholarship and college tuition. These are the students who, for only financial reasons, may have to leave school and are robbed of their opportunity to earn a degree and live the life their parents dreamed for them.
For that reason, I have introduced HB101 which would create new revenue stream so the Lottery Scholarship can cover the full cost of tuition. HB101 would allow the New Mexico Lottery to operate live table games and sports betting at the five New Mexico racetracks.
These five racetracks already have casinos -– but gaming there is limited to slot machines and horse racing. HB 101 would permit the racetracks to rent space to the state-sponsored lottery to operate new games. Six states currently allow their lotteries to do this. It’s not a new idea, and it's now our time.
It is estimated that HB101 will generate $18 million that will go directly to the Lottery Scholarship Fund. That means all New Mexican students, regardless of who they are and where they live, have an opportunity to go to college for free. Students can choose to attend a two-year college, four-year university or a tribal college.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to pass HB101. The decisions we will be asked to make are simple: Do we support our kids in pursuing their dreams to go to college or not? Do we support all of our marginalized and forgotten communities or not? Do we put our kids first?
Rep. Ray Lara represents House District 34 in southern Dona Ana County.