SANTA FE — For years, New Mexico governors have been able to squash bills passed during the final days of a legislative session simply by not acting upon them.
But that would change under a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the “pocket veto” that cleared its first Senate committee on Wednesday with bipartisan backing.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 2, said the current system allows the governor to veto bills without providing any explanation, which would change if the proposal is ultimately enacted.
“This is an unnecessary anti-transparency and anti-good government provision in our state Constitution,” Candelaria said Wednesday.
Republican senators also voiced support for the proposal, which passed the Senate Rules Committee 8-1, with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, casting the dissenting vote.
“It’s not a partisan issue — it’s a legislative versus executive issue,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.
Under the Constitution, the governor has 20 days after a session’s end to act on bills passed during the session’s final three days. Any bills that are not signed or vetoed during that period are automatically vetoed.
Pocket vetoes have been used frequently by some New Mexico governors.
In her first year in office in 2011, former Gov. Susana Martinez pocket-vetoed 65 bills — out of 98 total vetoes.
The Legislature filed a lawsuit against Martinez in 2017 challenging her vetoes of 10 bills. The state Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the vetoes a year later, ruling that the then-governor had not followed the proper constitutional procedures.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who issued 15 pocket vetoes during her first two years in office, opposes this year’s proposal, with the Governor’s Office arguing it would intrude into the governor’s executive authority and disrupt the balance of power among the branches of government.
“It’s unclear what the resolution is attempting to express beyond the animus of its sponsor,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said Wednesday. “The governor has pocketed bills — in accordance with the authority afforded her by the state Constitution — sparingly, and her veto messages have been thorough.”
However, Lujan Grisham would not ultimately be able to veto the proposal.
That’s because, if approved by both the House and Senate during this year’s 60-day, it would go before statewide voters for final approval, likely in November 2022.