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The Latest: New Mexico’s 1st Muslim lawmaker takes office

January 15, 2019
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State Rep. Abbas Akhil, D-Albuquerque, an immigrant from India, speaks to fellow lawmakers before being sworn in as the first Muslim American state lawmaker in New Mexico history in Santa Fe, N.M., on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on opening day of the New Mexico Legislature (all times local):

3 p.m.

New Mexico has sworn-in its first Muslim American lawmaker in state history.

Rep. Abbas Akhil, an Albuquerque Democrat, took the oath of office on Tuesday after winning a close race to represent a seat in Albuquerque.

Akhil is an immigrant from India and an active member of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He defeated Republican state Rep. Jim Dines.

Akhil says he was honored to take the Albuquerque seat and make New Mexico history.

He brought Imam Fazail Ahmad Shaik of the Islamic Center of New Mexico to witness his historic swearing in ceremony.

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12:30 p.m.

The New Mexico state Legislature has convened for a 60-day session with an expanded Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

New legislators were sworn in Tuesday shortly after noon. Democrats hold a 46-24 majority in the House of Representatives. Democrats control 26 seats in the Senate, while Republicans hold 16 seats.

Democratic House and Senate leaders are seeking increases in spending on public education of at least 15 percent. The arrival of a Democratic governor after an eight-year Republican administration is opening the door for legislative initiatives on climate change, gun safety, marijuana regulation and efforts to expand health insurance coverage.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to “go big” on Democratic policy goals.

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11:20 a.m.

People are being screened for weapons as they enter the New Mexico House of Representatives gallery under new security procedures.

Spectators formed long lines in the Statehouse on Tuesday as state police began enforcement of a ban on firearms and other weapons in the House gallery during joint sessions of the Legislature. The concealed and open carry of guns still was allowed in the rest of the building.

Changes adopted by the Legislative Council committee this week also call for state police to be present during sessions of the House or Senate. Two officers are required when the Senate and House meet together in joint sessions.

Heightened security comes as a precaution as most high-ranking state officials gather for the governor’s State of the State address.

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10:25 a.m.

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf is setting a high bar for the 60-day legislative session, saying lawmakers have an opportunity to shift course and save a generation of New Mexico children from poverty.

The Santa Fe Democrat made the comment in a video message released Tuesday ahead of the start of the session.

He said House Democrats will be focused on measures that call for spending more money on public education, increasing teacher pay and investing more in early childhood education programs.

Education has long been a funding priority for the state’s politicians, but only recently did graduation rates reach an all-time high. Still, those rates are below the national average.

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11:25 p.m.

New Mexico’s Democrat-led Legislature has a billion-dollar budget surplus and a Democratic governor to work with as it prepares for the start of a 60-day legislative session.

Newly inaugurated Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is scheduled to deliver her first State of the State speech at noon Tuesday as the Legislature convenes.

The governor and leading lawmakers are proposing increases in annual spending on public education of more than $400 million after a court ruled that the state is failing to provide sufficient resources to public schools.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton is giving the governor and lawmakers until mid-April come up with a realistic plan to improve opportunities for students from minority and low-income households.

The governor also backs increase subsidies to the film and renewable-energy sectors.

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