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Governor issues 17 vetoes on deadline day

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday rejected 17 bills passed by lawmakers, blocking bipartisan proposals that sought to raise utility fees and reshape the training of law enforcement officers.

But, overall, she continued to use her veto powers sparingly.

Altogether, the governor vetoed just 18 of the 158 bills sent to her by the Legislature in the regular session – a rejection rate of 11%.

Nonetheless, Lujan Grisham clashed with the Legislature this year on a host of bills, many of which had passed with bipartisan support.

Supporters of a proposal to revise law enforcement training in New Mexico objected strongly Friday to one of the vetoes. The measure, Senate Bill 375, would have required annual training in de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention and responding to people in a mental health crisis, among other changes.

Lawmakers had passed it without a dissenting vote.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the proposal was a response – at least in part – to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee onto his neck.

“We thought we were doing something there to make sure our police had extra training,” Ingle, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Friday.

In her veto message, Lujan Grisham didn’t object to the extra training. Instead, she said she couldn’t support the bill because it would have changed the composition of the Law Enforcement Academy Board, weakening civilian oversight.

The proposal, the governor said, called for eliminating some members of the board, including two citizen representatives unaffiliated with law enforcement.

“Eliminating these members would insulate the board from any civilian oversight, a necessary accountability measure,” Lujan Grisham said in a message to legislators.

AJ Forte, executive director of the New Mexico Municipal League, a group that represents cities, said he hopes a revised version of the measure can win Lujan Grisham’s support in time for the 2022 legislative session.

The governor’s approval would be needed to take up the matter next year. In New Mexico, a governor has some control over the legislative agenda in even years, when lawmakers meet for just 30 days.

“This was really a holistic approach to law enforcement reform for us,” Forte said of the bill.

In addition to training changes, Senate Bill 375 also called for establishing a database to share information among agencies about excessive use of force.

‘It was a lifeline’

The governor’s veto of a proposal aimed at bringing a 24-hour emergency health care facility to Valencia County also drew strong opposition.

The measure – House Bill 240, passed by lawmakers without dissent – would have allowed certain property tax revenue in Valencia County to be dedicated to the effort.

“This was not just a piece of legislation – it was a lifeline for a community in need,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said in a written statement. “Our community has been working on this for almost 15 years and we hoped this was the year the Governor would look beyond the city and see the needs of her rural constituents.”

County voters approved a property tax to support a hospital in 2006. The legislation passed this year would allow the revenue to be used for a 24-hour emergency health care facility in the county, even if it doesn’t precisely meet the definition of a hospital.

Lujan Grisham’s veto message cited the discrepancy in rejecting the bill.

“To now use the mill levy funding for a purpose that was not presented during the election would abuse our democratic process and render the community’s decision irrelevant,” she said.

Veto rate about 9%

The 18 vetoes issued by Lujan Grisham this year continue a trend for the Democrat in her first term. She has generally rejected fewer bills than her recent predecessors.

Lujan Grisham has vetoed about 9% of the bills sent to her during the first three regular legislative sessions of her tenure. Her rate has ranged between 5% and 11%.

By contrast, Republican Susana Martinez, who served from 2011-18, vetoed about 28% of the bills passed during regular sessions of her administration, and Democrat Bill Richardson, who served from 2003-10, rejected about 15%, according to legislative records.

Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature for all but two years since 2003.

Friday was the signing deadline for Lujan Grisham.

Any outstanding bill she didn’t sign by noon was automatically rejected, a procedure known as a pocket veto.

In total, she vetoed 12 bills this year, with messages outlining her objections, and she pocket vetoed six more bills without taking action.

Seventeen of the vetoes came Friday. One was issued earlier.

Rejected

Among the bills Lujan Grisham rejected at the deadline:

n House Bill 103, which sought to raise about $179,000 in revenue through changes to fees paid by water and sewer utilities. Lujan Grisham described the fee increases as unreasonable.

n Senate Bill 328, which would have allowed for the extension of a water and sanitation gross receipts tax beyond the initial six years approved by voters. Lujan Grisham said voters should decide whether to extend the tax.


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