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State high court to hear veto case

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal


Gov. Susana Martinez

SANTA FE – The legal wrangling over the validity of 10 vetoes issued in March by Gov. Susana Martinez isn’t over yet.

The New Mexico Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear an appeal filed by the two-term Republican governor, paving the way for a final ruling in a landmark case that could set a precedent about how vetoes must be carried out.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous order accepting the case from the Court of Appeals, which had opted to defer to the state’s highest court.

At stake is whether 10 bills passed by the Legislature during this year’s 60-day session – and then vetoed by Martinez – should stay in effect as the litigation plays out. A district judge in August invalidated the governor’s vetoes and allowed the bills to become law.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she’s optimistic the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s ruling, but she said she’s looking forward to a resolution in the case.

“I would hope the Supreme Court would go ahead – for both sides – and get it done,” Papen said Monday.

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 clashed 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 top legislators, but GOP lawmakers have been largely silent about the effort. Legislators have contended the governor’s vetoes are invalid – either because she acted too late or failed to explain her objections to the bills.

Martinez, in turn, has insisted she met the legal requirements to veto the bills and has accused top-ranking Democratic legislators of wasting taxpayer dollars in the case.

“As the governor has repeatedly said, there’s no question she vetoed these bills,” Martinez spokesman Joseph Cueto said Monday. “The governor is hopeful that the Supreme Court will put politics aside and respect the crucial separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.”

The governor’s attorneys filed an appeal of the lower court ruling last month, arguing that District Judge Sarah Singleton erred both in making her initial ruling and in allowing the bills to take effect before an appeal could be filed.

Since the appeal is based on those two separate issues, it could take weeks before there is a ruling. The Supreme Court did not schedule oral arguments in the case, but that could still happen.

The 10 bills at issue generally passed with broad, bipartisan support during this year’s legislative session. The legislation includes measures allowing computer science to count toward high school math and science requirements, allowing industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes and giving local governments more leeway to expand broadband access.

Half the bills passed without any dissenting votes, and the Martinez administration even testified in support of at least one of them.

With lawmakers set to return to Santa Fe in January for the start of a 30-day session, Papen said she doesn’t foresee any bad blood.

“I don’t see why we should do any retribution against the governor, or vice versa,” she told the Journal. “It’s a legal question that needs to be settled.”

Legislators also filed a separate court challenge against Martinez in April over the governor’s line-item vetoes on a $6.1 billion budget bill. The state Supreme Court ultimately declined to weigh in on that case.