New Mexico Supreme Court Rejects Rubber-Stamp Vetoes

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — New Mexico’s governor must present reasons for vetoing a legislative bill for a veto to be valid, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

At the core of the dispute were 10 bills the New Mexico Legislature passed in its most recent session, which Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed without attaching her objections.

The governor stated her objections over the next 11 days.

Among other topics, the disputed bills involve:
– industrial hemp research regulations
– expanding financial assistance for medical students
– converting state buildings to solar power
– allowing workers to use accumulated sick leave to care for family members
– requiring accommodation for pregnant employees
– increasing the state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour
– requiring online rental services such as AirBnb to pay lodging taxes, as hotels do
– consolidating school board and municipal elections.

In its June 2017 lawsuit against Gov. Martinez and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the New Mexico Legislative Council said the state constitution requires that the governor return any vetoed bill to its house of origin within three days, accompanied by the governor’s objections. The Council cited the 1991 Colorado Supreme Court ruling in Romer v. Colorado General Assembly: “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.”

In September last year, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton issued the writ of mandamus requested by the Legislative Council, finding that the vetoes had not been fully issued within the three days mandated by the state constitution. The governor appealed the writ in October, asking the state supreme court to stay the writ and review the findings.

In oral arguments Paul Kennedy, representing Gov. Martinez, said that as the governor’s objections reached the Legislature in plenty of time for the body to have three days to consider whether to try to override the veto, no damage was done nor prejudice created.

But Jane Yohalem, arguing for the New Mexico Legislative Council, said that Article 3, section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution states that “no person or collection of persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments, shall exercise any powers properly belonging to either of the others, except as in this constitution otherwise expressly directed or permitted.”

Yohalem said that under the strict interpretation demanded by the framers, the governor’s objections must be returned with the vetoes.

Kennedy, in rebuttal, said that “with” need not mean “together with and attached to.”

Chief Justice Judith Nakamura pointed rebutted: “If I ask you to take a walk with me, it doesn’t mean I’m going to come along in three days.”

In an unusual move, the court recessed to discuss whether a ruling could be reached immediately. After just over an hour, the court reconvened and Chief Justice Nakamura presented an oral ruling, declaring that the language of the state constitution makes clear that objections must be presented at the same time as the veto: affirming the writ of mandamus and lifting the stay on the 10 disputed bills becoming state law.

The disputed bills were 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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