SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham rejected bipartisan proposals to revise high school graduation requirements and overhaul New Mexico’s dysfunctional Game Commission on Friday as she used her veto pen more than ever.
The Democratic governor issued 35 vetoes altogether this year, representing 14% of the bills lawmakers sent to her in the 60-day session.
It’s the most vetoes and highest percentage since she took office in 2019. And it doesn’t count line-item vetoes in bills she otherwise signed into law.
But her veto rate over the last five years is still lower than her predecessors’ — Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Bill Richardson, according to a Journal analysis.
The flurry of vetoes came Friday, the deadline for Lujan Grisham to act on bills passed in the final days of the session. They were a combination of outright vetoes and pocket vetoes, in which she failed to sign the bill by the deadline, killing it through inaction.
Lujan Grisham said much of what she vetoed simply wasn’t necessary. In some cases, her administration already has authority to act, she said, and in others, the Legislature didn’t quite get it right.
“I don’t need a statute for every idea,” Lujan Grisham said Friday during a bill-signing ceremony.
Among the casualties Friday were criminal justice bills backed by Democrats to reduce the number of people imprisoned for technical violations of parole and end sentencing enhancements for drug possession in certain cases.
Lujan Grisham also rejected plans to boost judicial salaries for the second consecutive year.
Mason Graham, Common Cause policy director, said the pay raise for judges — which would have brought Supreme Court justice pay to $214,000, equal to a federal magistrate — would have helped diversify the bench and expand the pool of applicants.
“There is no more important time than the present to bolster — rather than undercut — this important branch of government,” Graham said in a written statement.
The governor, in a veto message, said tying the salaries to the federal court system could be problematic down the road.
A proposal to overhaul the appointment and removal process for the Game Commission — which sets hunting and fishing regulations — also died Friday. The governor didn’t act on it by the deadline, killing it through a pocket veto.
The governor-appointed commission has endured so much turnover that vacancies left it without a quorum for parts of this year.
Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo and Republican Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte jointly sponsored legislation, House Bill 184, intended to stabilize and strengthen the commission. The proposal would have prohibited removing a member except for incompetence, malfeasance or neglect.
The agency “has been struggling, so we put a solution on the governor’s desk,” McQueen said in an interview. “If that’s not a solution she wants, I think it’s time for her to step up and suggest a solution of her own.”
The governor also rejected a bipartisan proposal to change high school graduation requirements, issuing a veto message that said the bill would weaken graduation standards by removing requirements for certain courses.
The measure, House Bill 126, was jointly sponsored by Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, and House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec.
Lane said the proposal would have given students more flexibility to pursue off-campus learning, such as career and technical education.
“I’m committed to continuing to work on revising and updating our graduation requirements to fit students’ practical lives and what life looks like when you get out of high school,” he told the Journal.
Lujan Grisham on Friday also blocked approval of Senate Bill 426, which would have established a civil rights office under state Attorney General Raúl Torrez. The governor didn’t act on the bill by the Friday deadline, killing it through a pocket veto without a public explanation.
Earlier this week, she said she had mixed feelings on the bill, describing the concept as valid but saying prosecutors already have tools to investigate neglect and abuse.
Torrez had pushed for creation of the office as a way to protect the rights of children in state custody, such as foster care. The office, he said, could investigate broader patterns of abuse or address problems that aren’t solved through civil litigation.
The proposal was one of several bills aimed at strengthening oversight of the beleaguered Children, Youth and Families Department — all of which either failed to pass the Legislature or were blocked by the governor.
Lujan Grisham’s vetoes are nowhere near the level of her predecessor, Martinez, who vetoed a whopping 47% of what lawmakers sent her in 2017. Richardson vetoed as many 20% in 2007.
High-profile vetoes by New Mexico governor
Senate Bill 426: Establish a civil rights office under the state attorney general
Senate Bill 2: Raise judges’ pay
Senate Bill 84: Change system for probation and parole violations
Senate Bill 187: Exclude drug possession from sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
House Bill 184: Overhaul appointment and removal process for Game Commission
House Bill 126: Revise school graduation requirements