Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver isn’t getting in the middle of a fight between the governor and some lawmakers over whether recent vetoes are invalid.
Some Democratic senators charged on Thursday that the governor didn’t act within the required three-day period on three bills — instead vetoing them after that period had expired. And on other bills, they claimed, Martinez violated the N.M. Constitution by failing to provide explanations when she informed the Legislature of her vetoes.
The legislators say that means a handful of bills Martinez intended to veto this week instead became law by default. On Friday, five bills Martinez vetoed were listed on the Legislature’s website as being enacted.
They include Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, which would allow for research of industrial hemp, and Senate Bill 134, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, that would allow students to count a computer science course toward the math and science credits they need to graduate from high school. Martinez’s vetoes on both bills sparked outrage among many.
Another vetoed bill the Legislature’s website now lists as becoming law is House Bill 126, sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, which changes the criteria for scholarships awarded to medical students who promise to practice in underserved areas. It would allow graduates of private colleges to have the same chance at scholarships as graduates of public universities and give preference to students from schools in New Mexico.
By listing the bills as “law without signature,” the Legislature might create the opportunity for Toulouse Oliver to chapter and publish them — the final step in the process of them becoming law.
Toulouse Oliver doesn’t plan to do that, Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said.
“The secretary plays a ministerial role in receiving signed bills to be chaptered into law,” he said. “Whether the governor met her constitutional obligation by vetoing these five bills in the manner in which she did is a question that should be answered by our court system.”
“This office will swiftly chapter these bills if and when we receive guidance from the New Mexico courts to do so,” Blair said.
That puts it on lawmakers to sue if they want to attempt to undo the vetoes. If Toulouse Oliver had chaptered and published the bills, it might have instead fallen on Martinez to file a legal challenge to the bills becoming law.
Some Democratic lawmakers have said they may sue. Blair said the Office of the Secretary of State is “not necessarily anticipating any legal action,” but is simply saying that, “without some clear guidance or direction from the courts, we don’t believe we have a mandate to chapter the five bills.”
Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Martinez, called the Senate’s allegations about the governor’s vetoes “silly.”
“The governor vetoed the bills, and they’re not going to go into effect,” Lonergan said. “This is nothing more than a distraction by the Senate to help hide the fact that they are determined to shut down the government.”
The governor’s office said Friday it was preparing for the possibility of a shutdown and a special session because of a budget standoff that has yet to be resolved. The current session ends at noon on Saturday.
State government is currently funded through June 30. The budget being debated now is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.