Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Compared with some of her predecessors, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham displayed veto pen restraint in the aftermath of the 60-day legislative session that ended last month.
But she did strike down before a Friday bill signing deadline a measure that would have allowed small amounts of beer and wine to be delivered to homes and hotel rooms with food orders and a proposal that would have changed New Mexico’s rules for probation and parole.
District attorneys from around the state – and Attorney General Hector Balderas – had urged the governor to veto the probation and parole measure, House Bill 564, after it passed both the House and Senate by broad margins.
Lujan Grisham ultimately did so, but said Friday that she was disappointed the prosecutors had not been more engaged as the bill advanced during the legislative session. She also said she expects them to work closely with bill backers before the 2020 legislative session to come up with a compromise.
“Being tough on crime is not inconsistent with being smart on crime, and our government needs to be both,” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message.
New Mexico District Attorneys Association issued a statement lauding the governor’s veto, while adding that prosecutors are willing to work with backers of the bill to craft new legislation that can change the state’s probation and parole system without “negatively affecting public safety or victim’s rights.”
In all, the first-term Democratic governor signed 281 of the 309 bills passed by lawmakers during this year’s session. Of the 28 bills she vetoed, 14 were pocket-vetoed when Lujan Grisham did not act on them before the deadline.
Among the bills the governor signed into law was legislation making changes to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, which has grown steadily over recent years and now has more than 70,000 licensed members.
That measure, Senate Bill 406, authorizes the use of medical marijuana in schools and extends the length of an approved patient identification card from one year to three years, among other changes.
A day after signing into law a $7 billion budget bill that will boost state spending to an all-time high, Lujan Grisham also signed a separate bill that contains more than $900 million in public infrastructure spending.
The governor used her line-item veto authority to strike dozens of projects from the bill, though the total value of vetoed projects was only about 1 percent of the total bill – or roughly $9.5 million. Vetoed projects included $300,000 to develop a Corrections Department master plan and $222,0000 to renovate a conference room at a state courthouse in downtown Santa Fe.
Money to pay for this year’s capital outlay projects comes from an unprecedented $1.2 billion budget surplus, due primarily to an oil drilling boom in southeastern New Mexico. That means the state will not have to issue bonds to pay for them, as is typically done.
But Lujan Grisham said she will push for future changes to the capital outlay system, which has come under scrutiny in recent years for being secretive and often providing piecemeal funding for projects. Several bills aimed at making changes to the system stalled during this year’s session.
“I think we can have a better, more cohesive approach that’s transparent,” the governor said during a Friday news conference in Santa Fe.
Overall, Lujan Grisham’s veto rate of 9.1 percent was much lower than that of her predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez, in most years.
As recently as 2017, Martinez, a Republican, vetoed more than half of the 277 bills that reached her desk, although some of those vetoes were later found to be unconstitutional after a long-running court challenge.
Lujan Grisham said Friday that she tried to “get to yes” on all bills passed by lawmakers, a task that might have been made easier by the fact Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
“I feel incredibly prepared to defend the decisions we made,” the governor said, while joking she had consumed a record amount of coffee during the bill signing period.
She also said her staff had aimed to provide messages explaining her reasoning for most of the measures she vetoed, so that lawmakers could come back next year with changes.
Meanwhile, the governor did not hold back in touting the session’s legacy.
“We did more on education and transitioning to a clean energy economy (this year) than any other state,” Lujan Grisham said. “I would argue this was the most productive legislative session in the history of New Mexico.”