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Legislators’ suit seeks to invalidate 10 vetoes

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez has insisted that she followed proper procedures in vetoing bills. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Top New Mexico lawmakers filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. Susana Martinez, arguing that 10 bills the governor vetoed during this year’s 60-day legislative session should be declared to be law because Martinez did not follow proper veto procedures.

The lawsuit, filed in District Court, could set a precedent as to whether governors have to specify their objections when vetoing legislation. After striking down some of the bills in question, Martinez simply said they were not necessary for the “health, safety and welfare” of New Mexico citizens.

She has insisted the vetoes were lawfully done.

However, other bills in question were not vetoed within a three-day deadline for acting on bills passed during a legislative session, the lawsuit filed by the Legislative Council also claims.

“Although those bills passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support, the Legislature remains in the dark regarding Gov. Martinez’s objections to the bills she attempted to veto,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said in a joint statement.

The Governor’s Office on Monday blasted lawmakers for filing the lawsuit.

“This is yet another example of out-of-touch Santa Fe trial lawyers wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said, referring to an unsuccessful previous court challenge filed by lawmakers.

At stake are bills dealing with industrial hemp research, local government broadband expansion, drug testing for racehorses and allowing computer science to count toward math and science requirements for New Mexico high school students.

Since Martinez vetoed the bills, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has declined to chapter them into law. If successful, the lawsuit would compel that action, a needed step for the bills to take effect.

The state Constitution says any vetoed bills must be returned to the House or Senate in a timely manner “with objections.” Exactly what constitutes an objection does not appear to have been previously ruled upon by New Mexico courts, though similar challenges have been successful in other states.

Martinez vetoed the bills in rapid succession in March – during the final days of this year’s session – as leading lawmakers and the governor feuded over the state budget, taxes and gubernatorial appointees.

Six of the 10 bills were vetoed on March 15, the day after the Senate voted to override Martinez’s veto of a teacher sick leave bill.

The Legislative Council, a group of leading legislators from both political parties, authorized the lawsuit in April via a closed-door vote. It wasn’t filed until Monday because lawmakers wanted to first resolve a lingering budget impasse – a task that was completed in a special session that ended last week.

In response to the other court challenge, the Supreme Court ultimately declined last month to weigh in as to whether Martinez overstepped her authority by axing big chunks out of a $6.1 billion budget bill.