February 7, 2023

Bill limiting governor’s powers dies in committee

Senators tabled a bill that would put more power in the hands of legislators in when it comes to emergency declarations and public health orders on a 5-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.

The bill, SB 65, was more than about limiting executive branch powers and more about giving some power back to the legislature.

“The bill allows, essentially, a review of a public health order under certain conditions,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Gregory Baca, R-Belen, said. “It allows for 90 days for a health order to stay in effect as issued by the executive and upon the expiration of 90 days, it would either have to be reviewed by the legislative body– if we’re in session, we would simply do a majority or or majority vote on the health order– otherwise, it would be given to (legislative) council, where it would be reviewed by a portion of our members and it would be voted on at that point.”

The committee seemed to agree that the legislature should find a way to get some of their powers back but not the way SB 65 proposes.

“We have very equal branches of government here and we are by far the weakest and so anytime, in general. I like things that empower our legislative branch,” Senate Judiciary Vice Chair Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, said.

Duhigg disagreed with the potential of multiple special or extraordinary sessions should public health orders need to be extended. 

“I know folks did not like what happened during COVID,” Duhigg said. “But frankly, we don’t know what future emergency situations might be coming. We don’t know if we’re going to be in a position to be calling ourselves in every 90 days, if need be. I think this takes away important flexibility that the executive should have in an emergency situation.”

Following the failure of the bill, both of the bill’s sponsors issued statements explaining their vexation with what happened with the bill.

“I am incredibly disappointed to see the lack of consistency from my colleagues on how they view our constitutional responsibilities,” Baca said in a news release. “We either have a duty to represent the best interest of our communities or we do not. Today, Senate Democrats again affirmed the abdication of our constitutional duty to check the extra-constitutional duties taken by the executive during times of emergency.”

SB 65 co-sponsor Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, agreed with Baca.

“We have seen what unrestrained powers look like when the interests of one politician are put above the people who elected them and it is not good,” Gallegos said in the news release. “This is not about one governor; this is about the next emergency that will inevitably hit unpredictably and non-uniformly across our state. Other states manage to go to their legislatures for this check. It seems the only reason we will not accept this duty is a lack of political courage.”

This is not the first time a bill of this nature was proposed. Last year a similar bill passed both the Senate Health and Public Affairs and Senate Judiciary Committees but died on the floor “for unknown reasons,” Baca said.