Partisan games keep state from moving forward
June 14, 2017
Once again, perceived vagaries in New Mexico law — and animosity between Gov. Susana Martinez and the Democrat-majority Legislature — have led to district court.
This time, the Legislative Council — which authorized a lawsuit in April in an inexcusable closed-door vote — is asking the court to find that 10 bills the governor vetoed during this year’s 60-day legislative session should be declared to be law because Martinez did not follow proper veto procedures. Some bills, the petitioners claim, were vetoed after the three-day deadline.
The lawsuit also claims the veto messages accompanying some vetoes used boilerplate language — such as not being necessary for the “health, safety and welfare” of New Mexico citizens — instead of a more detailed explanation for the veto.
The Legislative Council is a group of 16 lawmakers who oversee year-round operations of the Legislature itself as well as its nonpartisan staff. Members include the House speaker, Senate president pro tem and the floor leaders for each political party, as well as some rank-and-file members of each body. Currently, Democrats have a 9-7 edge on the Legislative Council.
The state Constitution says only that vetoed bills must be returned to the House or Senate in a timely manner “with objections.” Exactly what constitutes an “objection” is unclear, and the issue does not appear to have been previously ruled upon by New Mexico courts, though similar challenges have been successful in other states.
OK children, let’s play nice.
It should be an easy call whether Martinez vetoed the bills in a timely manner, i.e., within three days of their passage (Sundays excluded) unless approved during the last three days of the session. For those passed in the last three days, any left unsigned are automatically vetoed 20 days after adjournment — called a pocket veto, which apparently requires no explanation whatsoever.
The “objection” language in the state Constitution is less than definitive, but the intent seems pretty clear: If a governor is going to veto something, he or she owes legislators and the people who elected them some reasonable explanation of why it’s being vetoed.
Such explanations allow legislators and the public to weigh the governor’s reasoning and to decide whether it’s petty political payback, a convincing argument of why the legislation is not good for the state, or something in between.
In other words, why is this piece of legislation unnecessary for the health, safety and welfare of New Mexicans?
It’s unfortunate that legislators, at the drop of a hat, are ready to spend taxpayer dollars on such frivolous distinctions, but it’s one more example of the mutual hyperpartisanship that is all too often preventing this state — and this country — from moving forward.
Instead of worrying who will blink first, both parties should put the good of New Mexico first, and cut the political brinksmanship. That shouldn’t require an explanation.
Something that does need explaining, however, is why the Legislative Council voted in secret to spend taxpayer money on a lawsuit. The Open Meetings Act allows public bodies to discuss legal action behind closed doors, but the vote to file a suit must be done in public. That was not the case here.
Constituents have a right to know how each voted, and what role partisanship might have played.
If you’d like to ask him, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, is a member of the Legislative Council.
— Albuquerque Journal