Bills

Judge clears way for 10 vetoed NM bills to become law

Gov. Susana Martinez. (Albuquerque Journal file)

SANTA FE — Ten bills that passed the Legislature — most with broad, bipartisan support — became law Thursday after Gov. Susana Martinez lost a last-ditch effort to block them from taking effect.

The chaptering of the bills into law came after District Judge Sarah Singleton this week rejected the governor’s motion to prevent the bills from going into effect while her legal team pursues an appeal.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Thursday that her staff had formally added the legislation to New Mexico’s books, a process known as “chaptering.” Her office, she said, was acting on the court’s order.

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Nonetheless, the fight may not be over. Martinez could still pursue an appeal.

The Republican governor contends she vetoed the legislation, but Singleton ruled in August that Martinez didn’t follow the proper constitutional procedure — either because she took too long to act on the bill or didn’t provide an explanation with each vetoed piece of legislation.

Half of the 10 bills passed the Legislature without a single dissenting vote, and the Martinez administration even testified in favor of at least one of them.

The legislation includes bills that will allow computer science classes to count toward high-school math and science requirements, authorize the growing of industrial hemp for research purposes and give local governments more leeway to expand broadband services.

The state Public Education Department testified in favor of the computer-science measure during a committee hearing, and lawmakers said they were puzzled by the spate of unexplained vetoes, which came in the middle of a contentious session earlier this year.

In seeking to stop the 10 bills from taking effect, Martinez’s attorneys had argued that allowing them to become law before an appeal can be heard would set off a “chain of events” that could prove difficult to undo.

However, Singleton dismissed the argument in her ruling denying the governor’s motion.

“The possible harms are no different than what may occur when laws are repealed or amended in subsequent legislative sessions or when a court finds a statute unconstitutional after its implementation,” the judge wrote.

A group of top-ranking lawmakers filed a lawsuit over the vetoed bills in June, after a contentious 60-day legislative session in which the Democratic-controlled Legislature sparred frequently with the Governor’s Office over budgetary matters.

Martinez’s office has insisted the governor’s vetoes were legal, and has blasted Democratic lawmakers for wasting time and taxpayer money in spearheading the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was authorized in a closed-door vote by the Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, but GOP lawmakers have been largely silent about the effort.

Martinez vetoed most of the 10 bills in question on March 15, the day after the Senate voted to successfully override the governor’s veto of a teacher sick leave bill.

In all, Martinez vetoed 145 bills passed during this year’s regular session — or roughly 52 percent of the bills approved by lawmakers. The veto rate was the highest of the governor’s tenure, which started in 2011, and was also the highest in recent state history.

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