New Mexico Legislature Sues Governor in Political Feud

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — The New Mexico Legislature raised the stakes in its feud with Gov. Susana Martinez, who vetoed more than half the bills it approved this session. Suing the governor in state court, the Legislature says 10 of her vetoes are invalid, so those bills have become law.

Martinez vetoed 141 of the 277 bills passed by both houses in the 2017 legislative session, including a line-item veto of the entire budget for the Legislature and for higher education. That veto prompted an unidentified “legislative staffer” to tell the Santa Fe New Mexican: “That’s not mean; that’s just nutty.”

Though the education budget was restored in late May, Martinez’s vetoing of 51 percent of the bills sent to her for signature has raised eyebrows across the state.

The Legislature is controlled by Democrats; Martinez is a Republican.

In its Monday lawsuit in Santa Fe County Court, the bipartisan New Mexico Legislative Council, suing on behalf of the state, claims 10 of Martinez’s vetoes were unconstitutional.

The New Mexico Constitution requires that the governor return any vetoed bill to its house of origin within three days, accompanied by the governor’s objections.

“The governor’s failure to return these 10 bills to their houses of origin with her objections resulted in those bills becoming law,” the Legislative Council says in its petition for an alternative writ of mandamus.

The Council says Martinez’s generic message was insufficient. After chiding both houses for failing to balance the budget, Martinez wrote: “As you know, I have vetoed each of these afore enumerated bills on the grounds that they are not necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of this great state. I agree with the Legislature; the depression of the oil and gas industry has resulted in a dire economic situation. Until the Legislature sees fit to fulfill its constitutional obligations, I will continue to veto legislation that is not necessary for the wellbeing of this state and its citizens.”

The Council says that simply calling a bill is “not necessary for the wellbeing of the state” is insufficient to qualify as a gubernatorial objection. It cites a constitutional rule that requires that the objections be returned to the Legislature attached to each vetoed bill, rather than in a memo released later; and the Colorado Supreme Court ruling in Romer v. Colorado General Assembly (1991): “a veto message is not complete unless it contains either the reasons for vetoing the particular act, or (what is the same thing) the objections of the governor to the act.”

The Legislative Council accuses Martinez of “using this new statement with respect to all 10 of the bills to vent her displeasure for the negotiating posture of members of the majority in both houses … which had nothing to do with the substance of these bills.”

It adds that the “after-the-fact statement contained in those messages that the bills were not ‘necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens’ of the state is nothing more than a regurgitation of the plenary authority of the Legislature.”

All 10 bills, therefore, which range in subject from industrial hemp research regulations to expanded financial assistance for medical students, are now law, and must be accepted as such by Martinez and her co-defendant, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Challenged vetoes include one to gradually convert state buildings to solar power: Only two of New Mexico’s more than 750 government buildings have solar power.

One would allow workers to use accumulated sick leave to care for family members.

One would require accommodation for pregnant employees.

Two would increase the state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour.

One would require online rental services like AirBnb to pay lodging taxes like hotels.

One would consolidate school board and municipal elections.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, threatened legal action in April, after the vetoes. He told the New Mexican that many of the bills she vetoed were “passed unanimously or near unanimously, with huge bipartisan support.”

“It’s a strange way to govern,” Wirth told the New Mexican.

The Legislative Council is represented by Michael Browde, professor of law at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and Jane Yohalem in Santa Fe.

The Council asks for an alternative writ of mandamus, a hearing on the merits, invalidation of all 10 vetoes, and a writ of mandamus ordering the secretary of state to accept the bills as adopted.

Martinez will be termed out of office at the end of 2018.

The 10 bills are Senate Bills 6, 24, 64, 67, 222, 356, Senate Education Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 134, Senate Corporations and Committee Substituted for Senate Bill 184 as amended, House Bill 126, and House and Labor Economic Development Committee Substitute for House Bills 133, 154 & 280, as amended.

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