Court: 10 bills vetoed by New Mexico governor should be law

2017-08-12 | Daily Times-Call (Longmont, Co.)

Aug. 11--LAS CRUCES -- Bills that were vetoed during the 2017 legislative session by Gov. Susana Martinez without an immediate veto message should become law, District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled Friday in Santa Fe.

There were 10 bills in all, ranging from industrial hemp research and production to technical changes in the horse racing code.

The bills in question will not become laws immediately. The next step in the process is for an order to be written, and at that point the governor would have the opportunity to appeal and request a stay of execution.

Five of the bills were vetoed without any message at all, said Senate President pro tempore Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, who had sponsored one of the vetoed bills, SB 184 to amend the horse racing act. Martinez was attending a governor's meeting in Utah when the bills were passed, she said.

"She was up in Park City I believe, skiing, and those bills went upstairs (to the governor's office)," Papen said. "She came back and vetoed it. She didn't put any message.

"When it came down, I asked to have the veto message read. They said there was no veto message," Papen said. "I said 'thank you' and sat down."

Moments later, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, asked to have the veto message read on his bill as well, SB 6, one of two hemp bills that were vetoed. Once again, he was told there was no veto message.

The governor eventually issued an identical blanket veto message for all of the bills.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who has since launched a run for governor in 2018, argued at the time that without a veto message, lawmakers had no way to make changes to the bills to address her concerns.

The vetoes came late in the session, when the governor was battling with the Legislature over both the budget and a number of university regents appointments that had not been confirmed.

"For her to veto, there has to be a message. We requested a message, and they said there is no message. That's not proper," Papen said. "They're supposed to say why they vetoed the bill."

She said they met with leaders from the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council Service, and decided to file a lawsuit.

"The court's decision today is a clear victory for our state Constitution, and for the principle that no branch of government is above the law," said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. "By requiring the governor to follow the process spelled out in the Constitution for vetoing legislation, the Legislature has a chance to correct the stated objection before the end of the session. This is a win for the process and the people of New Mexico."

A spokesman for the governor questioned the judge's ruling.

"We're disappointed in this decision because there is no question the governor vetoed these bills," Joe Cueto said. "It's telling how some in the Legislature love running to the courts when they know they don't have the support to override a veto."

The Legislature also sued the governor this year over her veto of the entire allocation for higher education and the Legislature. The state Supreme Court declined to act in that case, and the issue was eventually resolved in a special session.

Papen said they would be prepared for an appeal, if one is filed.

"We'll see what Paul Kennedy does," she said, referring to the governor's attorney. "If we go back into court, we're ready."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Bills in question

HB 126 Expands eligibility for medical scholarships

HB 144 and SB 6 Establishes a hemp research and development program

SB 24 Expands access to funds for broadband Internet services

SB 64 Removes a sunset clause for school technology funding

SB 67 Requires county treasurers to be notified on any new Tax Increment Development District.

SB 134 Allows students to use computer science courses to meet graduation requirements in math.

SB 184 Amends the Horse Racing Act regarding denial or revocation of licenses

SB 222 Expands the definition of a political subdivision

SB 356. Requires the county treasurer to be notified of any new Public Improvement Districts.