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Effort to make constitutional amendments more difficult advances

SANTA FE – An effort to make it more difficult for the Legislature to pass amendments to the state Constitution narrowly passed a Senate Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Joint Resolution 17, sponsored by Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, would change the state Constitution to require that future constitutional amendments receive a vote from at least two-thirds of the members elected to each chamber rather than a simple majority.

In the House, the change would mean approval from 47 of the 70 members rather than the 36 votes currently required. In the Senate, the change would require approval from at least 28 of the 42 members rather than 23 votes.

The Senate Rules Committee approved the proposal 5-4, with Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, voting in favor of the legislation along with the committee’s four Republican members.

Ryan argued it should be more difficult to get amendments on the ballot that are highly controversial or aimed primarily at drawing voters to the polls.

“I think we ought to have that (process) a little more sacred than just a simple majority,” Ryan said.

However, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat, said lawmakers have not abused the amendment process by placing large amounts of proposed amendments before voters.

“I think you’re chasing a dragon that does not exist,” Ortiz y Pino told Ryan.

The effort to raise the bar for constitutional amendments comes as some legislators are turning to proposed constitutional amendments to enact policy the governor otherwise would veto. Constitutional amendments adopted by both the Senate and the House bypass the governor and go to voters on a ballot for ratification during the next statewide election.

Among the 37 constitutional amendments proposed this session are proposals to increase the minimum wage, expunge certain criminal records, legalize recreational marijuana, limit school class sizes and prohibit same-sex marriage.

During the past two legislative sessions, 70 constitutional amendments were introduced. Of those, six were passed by the Legislature.

The proposal now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.