Legislature’s attorney withdraws from veto case over ‘perceived conflict of interest’

The Legislative Council’s attorney in the lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez is stepping down from the case, just a day after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on the case. The case is challenging Martinez’s line-item vetoes to a state budget passed last month by the state Legislature. Late Monday, Thomas Hnasko filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which lists Martinez and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Duffy Rodriguez as defendants. Hnasko is recusing himself because of a “perceived conflict of interest” and a request from the Risk Management Division of the state General Services Department. The motion says other attorneys at Hnasko’s firm, Hinkle Shanor LLP, “have been retained by [Risk Management] to defend designated state entities and employees against monetary damage and equitable claims asserted against those entities and employees.”

In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said they believed there was no conflict.

Date set for oral arguments in Legislature’s suit against Guv

The New Mexico Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the state Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez over some line-item vetoes she made to the state budget. The oral arguments will take place May 15 at 9 a.m. Ahead of this, the court ordered the governor’s office to submit a response to the suit by May 5. The Legislature will be allowed to file a reply by May 10. Also, the court asked the New Mexico Council of University Presidents to file a brief as part of the lawsuit by May 5. At issues are two large line-item vetoes Martinez made to the budget, one cutting the entire higher education budget and the other cutting the entire budget of the Legislature.

Legislature files lawsuit against Gov. Martinez

The New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez Friday morning. The suit accuses Martinez of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. Filed by the Legislative Council’s lawyer Tom Hnasko, the lawsuit calls the line-item veto of legislative funding an “attempt to eviscerate the ability of the other branch [of government] to perform its essential functions.”

In his filing, Hnsako asks the court to invalidate Martinez’s line-item vetoes of both the Legislature and higher education. “They’re suing the Governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement. “It’s disappointing because it shows a refusal to compromise as this is nothing but an attempt to bully her by short-circuiting the legislative process before a special session.

Legislators to sue Martinez over vetoes

The New Mexico Legislative Council voted to sue Gov. Susana Martinez over some of her controversial budget vetoes and is planning for an extremely rare extraordinary session. “Following the legal briefing given by attorneys to the Legislature, the Legislative Council has made the decision to officially begin the legal process necessary to ensure the state constitution is upheld,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said in a statement. “As legislators we take our oath to support the constitution and the laws of the state seriously. A strong system of checks and balances is crucial to the success of our democracy.”

It’s unclear how individual members voted. Democrats hold a 9-7 advantage on the panel, which is made up of members of both chambers.

Ethics commission amendment hits roadblock

It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.

Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state. Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote. “I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote.

Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed six bills that cleared the Legislature with overwhelming support, rankling lawmakers who complained that she never explained any of her decisions. Martinez’s own tone was equally sharp when she called a Senate override of one of her vetoes a stunt, even though that challenge to her was initiated by a fellow Republican. But when it came to issuing veto messages, Martinez didn’t give legislators any idea of why she rejected bills ranging from an uncontroversial proposal that would have given local governments a new option to pay for expanding broadband networks to arcane changes in horse-racing regulations. Spokesmen for the governor did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests for comment. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

The day before Martinez spiked the six bills, the Senate voted 34-7 across party lines to override her veto of a bill to let teachers use more sick days without being downgraded on their performance evaluation.

Panel delays vote on early childhood ed initiative

Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.

Senate panel backs bill to keep some spaceport business dealings secret

Spaceport America, which has generated plenty of controversy because of the tax subsidies it receives, now says its success depends on less public scrutiny. The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business. Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented.

Senate OKs reduced pot penalties

The state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to decrease penalties for marijuana possession, with supporters saying the bill would reduce burdens on the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 258 now moves to the House of Representatives. But even if it passes there, it’s almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. “As a career prosecutor, Governor Martinez saw firsthand the damage drugs do to our families and communities,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in an email. “She’s opposed to legalizing drugs — and that includes decriminalizing weed.”