SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez rejected an incredible 52 percent of the bills approved by lawmakers this year – the highest rate of her tenure and more even than Gary Johnson, whose veto pen once earned him the nickname “Governor No.”
On Friday alone – Martinez’s deadline to act – she vetoed dozens of bills, including proposals to raise the minimum wage and require domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms, at least temporarily.
She also killed proposals to overhaul New Mexico’s campaign finance rules and consolidate nonpartisan local elections into one election every other year.
The bills Martinez signed include a ban on the use of therapy that aims to change a young person’s sexual orientation and a law that prohibits schools from publicly identifying or shaming students whose parents don’t pay their cafeteria bill..
Altogether, she signed 132 bills and vetoed 145 this year, a veto rate of 52 percent for the last 60-day session of her tenure. In 1995, then-Gov. Johnson vetoed 47 percent of the bills that reached his desk.
Martinez, a Republican in her second term, said legislators had, in many cases, passed poorly written bills rife with unintended consequences. And they wasted time, she said, on frivolous legislation.
The governor “is very disappointed in all the time they wasted on songs and dances, when they should have been focused on balancing the budget and quashing the fiscal crisis,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “She expressed that disappointment both privately with lawmakers and publicly throughout the session.”
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers worked hard – and across party lines, in many cases – to address the state’s priorities.
“I think it’s hardworking New Mexicans who lose when the governor vetoes bills that passed the Legislature unanimously or with huge bipartisan support,” Wirth said Friday.
Lawmakers, he said, now have a growing to-do list for 2019, the first legislative session after Martinez leaves office. Many of the vetoed bills will be revived then, he said.
The governor blocked two of Wirth’s priorities this session – including a campaign finance measure, Senate Bill 96, that would have required some disclosure of “dark-money” campaign spending by nonprofit groups. That proposal, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. James Smith of Sandia Park, also sought to adjust limits on the size of campaign contributions that candidates may accept, among other changes.
It passed 36-6 in the Senate and 41-24 in the House.
Martinez said that the bill was poorly written and that increased disclosure requirements could have unintended consequences, such as discouraging charities from advocating for their causes. People might also be reluctant to donate if they fear their names will be disclosed, she said.
A separate proposal by Wirth – to require police to get a warrant before searching someone’s email or cellphones – won unanimous approval in both chambers before Martinez vetoed it. She said the U.S. Constitution already provides privacy protections and that the proposal would interfere with police work.
Gun curbs rejected
As for firearms, the governor vetoed a proposal requiring a person to surrender his or her guns, at least temporarily, if a court finds that domestic abuse has occurred and that the person is a threat to the physical safety of a household member. The prohibition would remain as long as there’s an order of protection in place barring the person from abusing the “protected” household member.
That measure, Senate Bill 259, was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
Martinez said judges already have authority to prohibit people from possessing a firearm if they are the subject of a restraining order.
“I would encourage (judges) to exercise this power whenever the facts and circumstances before them require it,” she said in a veto message.
Martinez also allowed a proposal to consolidate nonpartisan elections to die. It was another high-profile bill that won support from both parties. She didn’t act on it by Friday’s deadline, a procedure known as a pocket veto.
Gay ‘conversion’ banned
Martinez agreed Friday with the Legislature on at least one emotional debate: She signed a bill banning the use of “conversion therapy” on young people.
In a signing message, the governor noted that major medical organizations have condemned the practice, and they say it could lead to depression, suicide and other problems.
The measure is Senate Bill 121, co-sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria and Rep. G. Andres Romero, both Albuquerque Democrats.
“Today’s historic action by Gov. Martinez confirms that our shared commitment to protecting all children from abuse transcends party labels and ideological differences,” Candelaria said in a written statement.
The governor also signed a bill that supporters say makes New Mexico a national leader: Senate Bill 374 establishes a “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act” and prohibits the public shaming of students whose parents don’t pay their school lunch bills on time.
The measure – co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Michael Padilla and Linda Lopez, both of Albuquerque – also includes provisions aimed at making it easier for qualified students to get free meals.
“Children across New Mexico will no longer be punished because their parents can’t afford to pay their lunch bills,” Padilla said in a written statement.
It’s the first law of its kind in the country, supporters said.
Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.