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Contested vetoed bills to remain in limbo

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez

SANTA FE – The state Supreme Court has temporarily blocked 10 bills passed during last year’s 60-day legislative session from becoming law, granting a stay sought by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The governor contends she vetoed the bills – most of which passed the Legislature with broad, bipartisan support.

Legislative leaders, in turn, say the governor’s vetoes aren’t valid – either because she acted too late or failed to explain her objections to each bill, as required by the state Constitution. A district judge agreed with lawmakers, but Martinez appealed.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court order was a 3-2 decision with the majority writing that it made sense to grant a stay – preserving the status quo from before litigation began and giving the Supreme Court a “full and fair opportunity to rule on the merits of the case.”

The court hasn’t yet scheduled oral arguments.

The final ruling could set a precedent in New Mexico for how vetoes must be carried out.

In Tuesday’s order, the Supreme Court warned that its decision shouldn’t be construed as an “assessment of the probability of success on the merits by either party.”

At stake is legislation 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 of the 10 bills passed without a dissenting vote during last year’s regular session. The Martinez administration even testified in support of at least one of the bills.

But the governor issued the vetoes in a tense standoff with lawmakers over the budget.

In June, legislative leaders filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the vetoes. In August, a district judge ordered Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to “chapter” the bills – a process that puts them on the books as state law.

The lawsuit contends Martinez didn’t specify her objections when she struck down some of the bills – leaving them little explanation for why she rejected them – despite a constitutional requirement that she return vetoed legislation “with objections” to the House or Senate.

In some cases, the governor simply said the bills weren’t necessary for the “health, safety and welfare” of New Mexicans.

The lawsuit also contends that, for some bills, the governor didn’t act within a three-day deadline.

The Martinez administration, however, says she met every legal requirement.

“As we’ve said all along, there is no doubt these bills were vetoed,” Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell said in a written statement. “This is just another example of what legislators will do when they don’t get their way.”

Chief Justice Judith Nakamura and Justices Petra Jimenez Maes and Edward Chávez concurred with granting the stay while Justices Charles Daniels and Barbara Vigil were in dissent.

It’s unlikely lawmakers will pursue a veto override of the bills, especially while the validity of the vetoes remains in doubt. In any case, a 30-day session of the Legislature begins Jan. 16.