June 15, 2023

SOS: The petitions seeking to repeal laws are not legitimate, first of several cases about it dismissed

Across New Mexico, a series of veto referendum petitions are being circulated by a conservative organization.

These petitions, although not official, are an attempt to repeal six bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session.

The New Mexico Family Action Movement, which claims that rights were taken away from New Mexicans by the legislature during the legislative session due to the passage of these bills, is circulating the petitions.

The bills involve abortion rights, school-based health centers, gender identity, automatic voter registration and the new permanent absentee voter list and mandatory training for poll watchers and clarifying voter roll updates.

However, the petitions being circulated are not official, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

“We’ve been made aware that there is an effort to circulate petition referendums for a number of laws that passed the legislature last session,” Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas told NM Political Report. “However, at this point, the Secretary of State has not approved and certified, nor has the Attorney General signed, any referendum petitions submitted and none of the referendum petitions currently being circulated will be considered valid under the law to challenge laws passed during the 2023 legislative session. It is very disappointing that New Mexicans are being misled about this petition referendum process by certain groups and individuals.”

None of the bills targeted by the referendums are subject to the referendums, Curtas said, reiterating that these petitions are not valid.

“Invalid referendum petitions are being circulated throughout the state to challenge laws passed during the 2023 legislative session and if someone is asked to sign a referendum petition they need to make sure it checks all four of those boxes on the notice we have on our website. Which, again, at this point, none do,” Curtas said.

The SOS put a notice on its website alerting the public to what makes a referendum petition official to inform the public.

To ensure that the referendum petition being signed is valid, it will have an approval stamp on it from SOS Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Attorney General’s signature and all legally required instructions for signers.

The Attorney General’s Office is consulted on all referendum petition requests and, according to Curtas, concurred with the SOS determination that the referendum petition be denied.

“To date, the Secretary of State has not approved and certified, nor has the Attorney General signed, any referendum petitions submitted and none of the referendum petitions currently being circulated will be considered valid under the law to challenge laws passed during the 2023 Legislative Session,” the notice states.

On June 7, one of the petitioners had a case in state district court dismissed with prejudice which means the case cannot be refiled.

The case was dismissed based on the petitioner’s “failure to demonstrate a basis for relief renders intervention improper moot,” the dismissal order states.

According to the New Mexico state constitution, the bills fall within an exception barring referendum on bills “providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”

The six laws in question were HB 7 which protects access to reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare, SB 13 which shields medical providers who provide abortion healthcare services and their patients from civil or criminal legal liability, SB 397 which codifies school-based health centers, HB 207 which expands the state Human Rights Act to include gender identity, HB 4 which expands voter rights protections to include automatic voter registration, restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated felons and established the Native American Voting Rights Act and SB 180 which made changes to the state’s election code.

According to documents on New Mexico Family Action Movement’s website, the reasons behind the group’s dissatisfaction with the bills claiming they violate parental rights, freedom of speech, election integrity and life.

“We have had a lot of people signing the petitions because they, whether they are Republican, Libertarian, Democrat, Independent, whatever. Many people are coming together to recognize the threat on our parents’ rights, our elections and, of course, our religious freedom,” NMFAM Executive Director Jodi Hendricks told NM Political Report on Wednesday.

Hendricks said that the SOS stating the petitions are invalid is “out of her scope of authority” and that bills in question do not fall under “preservation of public peace, health or safety” and that the SOS lacks the authority to make that determination, even though Toulouse Oliver nor her office ever made that assertion.”(Toulouse Oliver) is trying to say that they qualify as such and therefore don’t qualify for referendum,” Hendricks said.

The NMFAM website has a timer noting that as of June 14, there is about one day left to gather signatures, even though the referendum petitions are not legitimate without SOS approval or the NMAG’s signature.

Individuals associated with NMFAM have filed several court cases claiming Toulouse Oliver overstepped her authority by declaring the referendum petitions invalid.

“It is unfortunate that this group has not seen fit to educate themselves on the laws and requirements relating to the referendum process in New Mexico and instead continue to spread misinformation and encourage New Mexicans to sign invalid petitions,” Curtas told the NM Political Report.

In the event the petitions, of there is one for each bill in several counties across the states, are not accepted by the Toulouse Oliver’s office, Hendricks says that a larger lawsuit would be filed.