SANTA FE – New Mexico groups pushing to repeal laws passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during this year’s 60-day session are finding it hard to clear a legal hurdle just to set the rarely used process into motion.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver recently denied five more referendum petitions that were submitted by self-described “patriot” groups – targeting bills that ban coyote-killing contests and prohibit local “right-to-work” ordinances, among other measures.
In all, the Democratic secretary of state has rejected 14 proposed petitions, due to technical problems with the paperwork – in some cases punctuation marks were not properly used – and constitutional concerns.
Specifically, all five of the proposed petitions, she said, are barred by the state Constitution’s prohibition on repealing laws that were enacted for “public peace, health or safety.”
But Michael Harris of the Eddy County Patriots said the denials are “kind of ludicrous.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I think all she’s doing is stalling,” Harris said in a Monday interview. “We disagree with some of these laws, and we’re going to keep petitioning.”
He also said that if additional referendum petitions are rejected, the group will consider filing a lawsuit against the Secretary of State’s Office.
In response, Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Alex Curtas said office staffers have devoted large amounts of time reviewing to the petitions, and he questioned whether the patriot groups are trying to effectively overturn the results of the 2018 general election.
“We’re confident in our positions that we’re taking in the letters,” Curtas told the Journal. “None of the decisions we’ve been making are politically motivated – they’re motivated by what’s in the law.”
Patriot groups in five Republican-leaning counties – Eddy, Chaves, Sierra, Valencia and Roosevelt – have submitted referendum petitions.
The groups are planning to launch petition drives that could put dozens of recently enacted laws on the 2020 ballot for possible repeal. But they must secure approval from the secretary of state before they can circulate the petitions for signatures.
If they can clear that first hurdle, the groups will have to obtain valid signatures from more than 70,000 state voters – or at least 10 percent of the number who voted in last year’s general election, according to the state Constitution. There is also a geographic requirement that a certain amount of the signatures come from at least 25 counties.
Democrats swept all statewide offices on last year’s general election ballot, while also expanding their majority in the Legislature. That set the stage for this year’s 60-day session, in which numerous Democratic-backed measures were approved, including a measure to expand background check requirements for gun sales.
Since statehood, just three referendum attempts have been officially launched, and only one – in 1930 – was ultimately successful in repealing a state law, according to the Legislative Council Service.
But this year, referendum petitions have been filed on at least 18 bills – four more were filed last week by the Eddy County Patriot Group and have not been acted upon – with perhaps dozens more still in the works.
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