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Judge lets vetoed bills become law

Gov. Susana Martinez

Gov. Susana Martinez

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Ten bills that passed the Legislature – most with broad, bipartisan support – but were invalidly vetoed hit the state’s books Thursday after Gov. Susana Martinez lost a last-ditch effort to block them from taking effect.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver formally enshrined the bills into law after District Judge Sarah Singleton rejected Martinez’s motion to prevent that from happening while the governor’s legal team pursues an appeal.

Democratic lawmakers lauded the latest twist in the ongoing court battle and said new laws that include authorizing the growing of industrial hemp for research purposes, giving local governments more leeway to expand broadband services and allowing computer science classes to count toward high school math and science requirements would prove beneficial to the state.

“I’m glad the court upheld our Constitution, and I am glad for the farmers of New Mexico who are finally going to have a cash crop – it is long overdue,” said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, who had sponsored several hemp-related bills in recent years that ended up being vetoed by the governor.

However, the fight may not be over, since the Governor’s Office indicated Thursday that it plans to file an appeal.

“There’s no question the governor vetoed these bills,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “Like we’ve said all along, this is the latest example of Santa Fe politicians wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want.

“We’re going to appeal, and we hope the courts will recognize that there are still three branches of government.”

While the two-term Republican governor contends she legally vetoed the 10 bills during this year’s 60-day legislative session, Singleton ruled in August that Martinez didn’t follow the proper constitutional procedures – either because she took too long to act on them or didn’t provide an explanation with each vetoed piece of legislation.

Half of the 10 bills passed the Legislature without a single dissenting vote, and the Martinez administration even testified in favor of at least one of them.

A state Public Education Department official testified in favor of the computer science measure during a committee hearing, and lawmakers said they were puzzled by the spate of unexplained vetoes.

Martinez vetoed most of the 10 bills in question on March 15, the day after the Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of a teacher sick leave bill. A similar effort fell short in the House.

In seeking to block the 10 bills from taking effect, Martinez’s attorneys had argued that allowing them to become law before an appeal could be heard would set off a “chain of events” that would likely prove difficult to undo.

However, Singleton dismissed the argument in her Wednesday ruling denying the governor’s motion.

“The possible harms are no different than what may occur when laws are repealed or amended in subsequent legislative sessions or when a court finds a statute unconstitutional after its implementation,” the judge wrote.

A group of top-ranking lawmakers filed a lawsuit over the vetoed bills in June, after a contentious session in which the Democratic-controlled Legislature sparred frequently with the Governor’s Office over budgetary matters.

The suit was authorized in a closed-door vote by the Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, but GOP lawmakers have been largely silent about the effort.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Thursday that the judge’s ruling in the case could set an important precedent, though he said he didn’t view the outcome as a political “win” for majority Democrats.

“I think there’s no question going forward that governors will do what the district judge suggested” when vetoing legislation, Egolf told the Journal.

In all, Martinez vetoed 145 bills passed during this year’s regular session – or roughly 52 percent of the bills approved by lawmakers. The veto rate was the highest of the governor’s tenure, which started in 2011, and was the highest in recent state history.

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