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Be wary of proposals to amend the state Constitution

ALL CITIZENS SHOULD take heart that Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino’s ill-advised proposal to legalize marijuana through a constitutional amendment failed to receive a do-pass recommendation from the Senate Rules Committee and appears dead for this session. As the Journal has previously noted, plebiscite by constitutional amendment is a not a proper way to enact ordinary legislation and represents a slippery slope.

More significantly, perhaps, is that Sen. John Ryan’s proposal to make it more difficult to amend the state Constitution has cleared its first hurdle and is on its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

At present, a simple majority of the Legislature and a simple majority of the voters can approve any amendment. By contrast, a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress is required to refer a proposed federal constitutional amendment to the state legislatures or to individual state conventions where three-fourths of them must concur. In other words, it is extremely difficult to effect structural change in the national government. The Framers deliberately made this a cumbersome process.

Ryan’s proposal would likewise make it more difficult to amend New Mexico’ constitution by requiring a two-thirds vote in each house to refer any proposed constitutional amendment to the voters. The public should vigorously encourage the legislature to adopt this proposal.

Although legalization of marijuana or a boost in the minimum wage may be popular among the so-called “progressive” Democratic senators like Michael Sanchez, Linda Lopez, and Cisco McSorley, all of whom sit on the Judiciary Committee, they would be well-advised to consider the specter of a future Republican Legislature that might be inclined to use this vehicle to refer constitutional amendments to ban abortion, prohibit same-sex marriage, or to authorize state-sponsored prayer in schools.

One need only look to the recent history of the abuse of the initiative and referendum process in Oklahoma to see how well founded these concerns should be


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