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Several proposals would change state’s Constitution

SANTA FE – If some lawmakers have their way, New Mexico voters will be busy in the November general election deciding a host of policy questions ranging from legalizing marijuana to raising the minimum wage.

The array of proposed constitutional amendments in the Legislature has Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and some lawmakers questioning whether the Constitution – a document defining fundamental law and rights in New Mexico – is being misused.

Constitutional amendments, unlike a bill to change statutory law, go straight to voters if approved by the Legislature. That provides a way to bypass the governor and a potential veto.

“I don’t want us to get into the process of saying, ‘OK, well, we think the governor won’t sign it, so let’s do a constitutional amendment,’ ” said Senate President Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces.

Papen expressed reservations about the proposal that would have voters deciding whether to legalize personal use and possession of marijuana.

Among other constitutional amendments proposed this session are ones to create an ethics commission to investigate alleged misconduct by public officials and to require a yearly report on the costs and benefits of all tax breaks and incentives.

Another proposal would reverse a 2003 constitutional change that gave the governor more control over public education. The measure would eliminate the secretary of education, appointed by the governor, as the administrator running the state Public Education Department. Instead, the proposal would return the state to having an elective state board of education as the policymaking authority for schools.

The sponsor of the marijuana-legalization proposal, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, contends that a constitutional amendment is a sound approach to deciding the issue.

“It really is much more responsive to the will of the people,” said Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat.

Martinez strongly opposes legalizing marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, said lawmakers must be cautious about using constitutional amendments to decide policy questions.