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Lawmakers challenge gov.’s veto response

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez’s claim that the state Constitution does not require her to provide an explanation for every veto does not jibe with settled state law, top New Mexico lawmakers argued in a court brief filed Friday.

Gov. Susana Martinez.

The Legislative Council, a group of top-ranking legislators, filed a lawsuit against the governor in June over 10 bills that were vetoed in the final weeks of this year’s 60-day legislative session.

In the court brief filed Friday, attorneys for the legislators said Martinez – in her official response to the lawsuit – cited parts of the state Constitution out of context.

“It is clear the language, history and the purposes of (the New Mexico Constitution) require that to effectively veto a bill during the legislative session, the governor must provide her objections so that the Legislature can timely consider and act on them,” the Legislative Council’s outside attorneys wrote in their filing.

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

Martinez, the state’s two-term Republican governor, has insisted the vetoes were legal.

The Governor’s Office has also blasted Democratic lawmakers for wasting time and taxpayer money in spearheading the lawsuit. It was authorized in a closed-door vote by the Legislative Council, a group of lawmakers that includes both Democratic and Republican members.

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

Most 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, and no override attempts were launched on any of the 10 bills in question.

Since Martinez vetoed the 10 bills in question, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has declined to chapter them into law. If successful, the lawsuit would compel that action, a needed step for the bills to take effect.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit was filed after a contentious 60-day session in which the Democratic-controlled Legislature frequently clashed with the Governor’s Office over budgetary matters.

In all, Martinez vetoed 145 bills passed during this year’s session – or roughly 52 percent of the bills approved by lawmakers. The veto rate was the highest of her tenure, which began in 2011.

A hearing before District Judge Sarah Singleton in the veto lawsuit case is scheduled for next week.

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