Gov. Susana Martinez is appealing a state judge’s decision to void her vetoes of 10 bills during the legislative session earlier this year, including measures legalizing research on hemp.
The bills became law last week after state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe denied the Republican governor’s request to block the legislation while she pursued an appeal.
Now Martinez has hired one of her confidants, attorney Paul Kennedy, in hopes of overturning Singleton’s decision. Kennedy filed a notice of appeal earlier this week. The case heads next to the New Mexico Court of Appeals in a process that could take months and drag out a battle over the governor’s veto power while casting questions over the future of the new laws.
Martinez vetoed the 10 bills without any explanation during a particularly acrimonious stretch of the legislative session.
The bills were mostly banal measures that cleared the Legislature with little if any opposition, a backdrop that only seemed to confound lawmakers when she vetoed the measures. Legislators of both parties openly speculated that Martinez nixed the bills in response to the state Senate’s vote on overriding another one of her vetoes.
Martinez issued an executive message at one point accusing majority Democrats in the House and Senate of failing to pass a balanced budget, warning she would “continue to veto legislation that is not necessary for the well-being of this state and its citizens” until lawmakers fulfilled their duties.
Democrats countered that the governor’s vetoes were invalid because she did not return the scrapped bills to the Legislature with any explanation of what she found objectionable.
Legislators then sued her, maintaining the New Mexico Constitution requires a governor to offer some reason for vetoing any bills while lawmakers are in session.
Top Democrats pointed to a section of the state constitution that says if the governor does not approve of a bill, the governor should “return it to the house in which it originated, with his objections.”
Singleton agreed, issuing a decision in August adopting a strict interpretation of that line.
Though the governor issued a blanket executive message within the three-day deadline for vetoing five of the bills, Singleton said that was not enough. And the judge wrote that Martinez missed the deadline altogether to veto the other five bills.
“Given the short time period in which our Legislature sits and the nature and pace of the legislative process, it is important that this provision be strictly construed to allow the business of both chambers of the Legislature to proceed in an orderly fashion and to allow the members to know the reasons for the governor’s decision upon the bill’s return so that they can act on those reasons,” Singleton wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Wednesday that “the right to appeal is part of the process.” But he said Singleton’s ruling was correct.
“Judge Singleton’s ruling confirmed the Legislature’s reading of the Constitution,” Wirth said in a statement. “Important bills which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support are now law.”
Kennedy did not respond to a message seeking comment. Martinez once appointed Kennedy to the state Supreme Court, where he served briefly in 2012, and she has since hired him to represent her in several lawsuits.
Martinez’s administration has awarded his firms nine contracts totaling at least $493,000, according to an analysis by The New Mexican. Those payments could top $1 million by the time Martinez leaves office at the end of next year.
The big question likely facing judges on the New Mexico Court of Appeals is whether the state constitution is to be read so strictly.
This specific issue has not landed in New Mexico’s courts in the past. But legislators have previously sued governors over vetoes.
Lawmakers took Martinez to court in 2011, for example, after she reduced funding for one program in the state budget. The state Supreme Court ruled against Martinez, saying she had the authority to veto individual items but not to unilaterally change a financial allocation made by legislators.
Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.
Vetoed bills that became law
• House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez, D-La Mesa, allows the state to begin licensing farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.
• Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, allows the state to begin licensing farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.
• SB 134, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria and Rep. Debra M. Sariñana, both Albuquerque Democrats, allows high school students to count computer science courses toward the math or science credits needed to graduate.
• SB 184, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, amends the Horse Racing Act to clarify exceptions to conduct requiring denial or revocation of an occupational license, as well as define the time period for denial of license. It authorizes the state Racing Commission to revoke occupational licenses for a period not to exceed five years if the licensee tried to use or conspired with others to use an electrical or mechanical device for affecting the speed or stamina of a racehorse.
• HB 126, sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, amends the policy for awarding scholarships to favor medical students who promise to work in underserved areas.
• SB 24, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, gives local governments a new option to pay for expansion of broadband access.
• SB 64, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, allows the Public School Capital Outlay Council to continue budgeting up to $10 million of the public school capital outlay fund for education technology initiatives.
• SB 67, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, requires that the county treasurer be notified of the formation of any tax increment development district within that county.
• SB 356, sponsored by Rodriguez, requires that the county treasurer be notified of the formation of any public improvement district within that county.
• SB 222, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, changes the definition of “political subdivision,” cutting the number of entities under the oversight of a watchdog office in the Department of Finance and Administration by an estimated 141 entities.