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Governor responds to veto challenges

Gov. Susana Martiez

Gov. Susana Martinez

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez fired back Friday at top-ranking legislators for challenging her vetoes of 10 different bills, saying they were grasping at technicalities and could have tried to override the vetoes instead of going to court.

In a court filing, the state’s two-term Republican governor also defended her vetoes of the 10 bills, arguing the state’s Constitution does not require her to provide an explanation for every piece of vetoed legislation.

“Reading such technical requirements in the New Mexico Constitution as mandatory prerequisites for preventing a bill from becoming a law would be contrary to the framers’ intent, because it would mean that bills can become law based on nothing more than a clerical error or technical oversight, rather than the merits of the proposed legislation itself,” Martinez’s attorneys wrote in the brief.

Top New Mexico lawmakers filed the lawsuit in June, after a contentious 60-day session in which the Democratic-controlled Legislature frequently clashed with the Governor’s Office over budgetary matters.

The legislators argue the 10 bills Martinez vetoed – all approved during the session – should be declared to be law because the governor did not follow proper procedures. She either took too long to act on the bills or did not provide a sufficient explanation for the vetoes, the suit claims.

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.

Six of the 10 bills were vetoed in a flurry of action on March 15, the day after the Senate voted to successfully override Martinez’s veto of a teacher sick leave bill. A similar override attempt in the House of Representatives came up short.

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 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 June because lawmakers wanted to first resolve a lingering budget impasse – a task that was completed in a May special session.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled last month the veto lawsuit could proceed and set a hearing date for next month.

A key question – and point of debate – in the lawsuit is whether the governor has to provide her reasoning for vetoing a bill. The Constitution says governors should return vetoed bills to the Legislature with their “objections,” but does not lay out a process for doing so.

Martinez’s attorneys, including Paul Kennedy of Albuquerque, also said in their Friday court filing it should be up to the governor and the Legislature – not the courts – to decide which bills become law.