June 5, 2017

Legislature sues governor, says ten vetoes are invalid

Andy Lyman

Susana Martinez during the 2016 State of the State Address.

The Legislature asked a state district court Monday to invalidate 10 vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez of bills state lawmakers passed during this year’s regular session.

The petition filed with the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe came after the Legislative Council voted to approve it earlier this year.

A spokesman for the governor said the legal challenge is “another example of out-of-touch Santa Fe trial lawyers wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want.”

Democrats say Martinez violated the state constitution by not explaining why she vetoed the 10 bills. The complaint describes the two categories of vetoes:  Half of the bills were vetoed within three days after being presented to the governor. But the governor did not include her “objections” as required  by the state constitution.

Martinez vetoed the other half of the bills on the same day she received them, but again did not explain her objections. The next day, according to the complaint, the governor “issued…a blanket statement concerning all ten bills without a specific objection on any bills.”

“Although those bills passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support, the legislature remains in the dark regarding Governor Martinez’s objections to the bills she attempted to veto,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a joint statement Monday afternoon. “By seeking Mandamus, we are protecting the legislative process and ensuring that the Governor complies with the constitution.”

Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Martinez, criticized Democrats.

“Their attempt to raise taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars failed; they failed in their first attempt to use the courts to circumvent the Constitution; and they failed to override the governor’s vetoes,” he said. “Lawsuits like these aren’t leadership, they’re just more of the same sad failures we’ve come to expect from Democrats in the Legislature.”

Among the bills vetoed by Martinez were two bills regarding hemp research, a bill that sought to ease the building of broadband infrastructure and a bill that would allow high school students to use a computer science class as a math credit for graduation requirements.

Court documents also ask the court to compel Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to formally accept these bills as law, describing this as her “mandatory, non-discretionary duty.”

Toulouse Oliver’s deputy chief of staff John Blair previously said the Secretary of State would not chapter the bills, which makes them law, unless ordered by a court.

The Legislative Council did not release which members voted in favor of the lawsuit and which ones, if any, voted against authorizing it.

This is the second time the Legislature has asked courts to overturn vetoes this year. Previously, the Legislature asked the Supreme Court to overturn line-item vetoes to the state budget. In the first suit, the Legislature said Martinez violated the state constitution by vetoing the entire budgets of the Legislature and the higher education department. Before a hearing on that case, the Supreme Court denied the lawsuit and said it was “not ripe for review.”

The Legislature and the governor later came to an agreement on the budget during a special session in May.