February 21, 2021

Lujan Grisham says she’d veto bill limiting executive power

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday she would veto legislation that would curb the power of the executive branch over extending public health orders.

“In their current context, yes,” she said when asked whether she would veto such a bill.

That’s not to say governors should be “omnipotent,” Lujan Grisham.

“That’s why you have three branches of government. That’s why you have elections. That’s why we have a free and independent press, and I don’t always get good press,” she said during a Friday news conference.

“I want to be clear,” Lujan Grisham added. “I agree that those systems are important and valuable. New Mexico’s successes in COVID have largely been because we are a centralized public health state where we can have very clear and effective mandates and supports that we can get out at once.

“The states that don’t have that — and local governments decide that, and they start and they stop — have had more deaths, more problems, more hospitalizations, higher infection rates, and now are having trouble, so much trouble with vaccines, that the federal government is coming in to do them directly,” she added.

The governor’s executive authority over emergency declarations has been a sore spot for some lawmakers as well as New Mexico residents. Lujan Grisham’s public health orders have affected the lives of all New Mexicans for nearly a year, ranging from restrictions on indoor dining and religious services to hotel occupancy rates and mask mandates.

The issue of the governor’s emergency powers surfaced during the Senate Rules Committee while legislators were considering the confirmation of Dr. Tracie Collins as Cabinet secretary of the Department of Health.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said the public perception has been that “it’s unlimited power for an unlimited time.”

“Where do you believe in the future we need to be going with that kind of power, so that there is that balance?” he asked Collins.

Collins, who was later confirmed by the Senate, said lawmakers are the voice of their constituents.

“If there is an emergency going on and there’s not the capability of bringing everyone together to hear their voices, then we have to create a space for you to communicate with senior leadership, the governor and myself on what you want to see happen, and it’s a collective discussion about what’s best for the state,” she said.

Collins also said she didn’t think the governor’s intent is to “have all this power — I really think it’s to protect New Mexico.”

Lawmakers are considering two bills that deal with the issue, including legislation that would place a 45-day limit on an emergency health order and require legislative approval to extend it past 45 days is scheduled to be considered by the full Senate.

Lujan Grisham said she understands and didn’t take offense to anyone in the Legislature wanting to have a debate about emergency powers and executive authority.

“I think that this is the place that you have it,” she said. “I have no ill will and I’m not mad. I’m hearing those debates, and I take them seriously.”

But Lujan Grisham said she has firsthand experience about how important it is in an emergency to deal with that crisis.

“I feel confident and I feel very strongly about the effectiveness — not perfect — of the decisions that we’ve made, and I think far more legislators believe that than don’t,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m going to have to veto any bills,” Lujan Grisham added. “I don’t think they get upstairs. But … I won’t know until I know.”