Suspense mounts as deadline nears for governor to act on 220 bills

SANTA FE – Activists and ordinary folks filled the Roundhouse for 60 days this year to plead their case on one bill or another.

By Friday, they’ll know for sure whether they got what they wanted.

Gov. Susana Martinez has just two days left to sign or veto 220 bills – the bulk of the Legislature’s work this year.

Anything she doesn’t act on by noon Friday is automatically rejected, a procedure known as a pocket veto.

At stake are proposals to increase New Mexico’s $7.50-per-hour minimum wage, take guns away from domestic violence offenders and require disclosure of “dark money” campaign spending.

Gov. Susana Martinez
Gov. Susana Martinez

A state budget package – along with a bill authorizing about $350 million in tax and fee increases – is also on the governor’s desk, and Martinez has indicated she plans to call a special session soon to address New Mexico’s financial crunch.

She is expected to act on some of the remaining bills today – perhaps even parts of the budget package – though the fate of many bills will almost certainly come down to the wire.

The budget and taxes, in any case, are in separate bills, and the governor also has line-item veto authority allowing her to reject parts of each bill.

The budget plan would authorize roughly $6.1 billion in spending for the year that starts July 1, or slightly more than current spending levels. To help pay for the spending, a companion measure would raise gasoline and vehicle-purchase taxes, impose taxes on nonprofit hospitals and internet retailers, and boost a fee levied on interstate truckers.

A third measure would approve the phaseout of some deductions in the tax code, part of a broader effort to simplify New Mexico’s system of gross receipts taxes.

The Republican governor has repeatedly vowed to reject tax increases, and she says the tax-overhaul bill doesn’t go far enough.

But she has not revealed more specifically how she’ll handle the budget package.

Martinez has the flexibility to, say, approve the spending bill, reject the tax increases and call lawmakers back into special session to craft a new plan to raise revenue – or some other combination of vetoes and signings.

It’s difficult to predict what she’ll do. She has vetoed bills that had overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans, she’s signed some bills sponsored by Democrats and vetoed ones sponsored by Republicans.

In her first year as governor, 2011, Martinez ended up pocket-vetoing 63 bills. That number decreased in subsequent years.

The governor vetoed just 33 of the 191 bills – 17 percent – passed by the Legislature during the 2015 session, the most recent 60-day session before this year’s. That includes both pocket vetoes and regular vetoes.

Matthew Coyte, president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the wait for Friday’s deadline can be frustrating after the intense give-and-take of a legislative session. He is among a group of volunteers pushing for new limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails.

A pocket veto, Coyte said, is the worst possible outcome.

“I’m not a politician,” he said, “so I don’t quite know how things work, but, personally, this bill deserves a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ … It would be very frustrating to see it just go through and not get signed one way or another.”

Miranda Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group, said she hopes the governor sees the merits of the bill her group worked on – a proposal that would require domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms if a judge determines the person is a credible threat to a household member’s safety.

The proposal passed the Senate 25-15 and the House 42-22.

“Whether she signs it or not,” Viscoli said, “there’s nothing else we can do. … We have to be a little Zen about it.”

Martinez has signed – or allowed to become law – 33 bills and vetoed 24. State lawmakers questioned the validity of some vetoes, a dispute that hasn’t been resolved.

One major piece of legislation, a proposal to establish an independent ethics commission, doesn’t need the governor’s approval. It goes directly to voters in 2018 because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this article.


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