--2 IN SESSION: Constitutional amendment fever
Sept. 24, 2017
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IN SESSION: Constitutional amendment fever

High profile constitutional amendments are getting headlines

January 24, 2014, 1:00 am
By Matthew Reichbach
Everyone has constitutional amendments on the mind this year.

From legalization of marijuana to tapping the permanent fund to fund early childhood education to banning same-sex marriage, the legislature will decide whether or not to send several constitutional amendments to the voters.

In some cases, it is the only way that something can get done (legislation that would eliminate the Secretary of Education in favor of a board). In other cases, it is another way of trying to get something done after it has been vetoed by the governor (legislation that would require a tax expenditure budget).

Republicans have taken exception to what they see as a way to avoid the governor. Governor Susana Martinez does not get to weigh in on the constitutional amendments as she does with legislation -- if both chambers pass a constitutional amendment it goes directly to the voters.

Capitol Report New Mexico reported on the anger that Republicans feel over the amendments.
"I don’t like what I’m seeing," said Sen. Lee Cotter, R-Las Cruces. "I don’t think you should change the constitution because you’re upset with the policies of the executive … We have a legislative process here and I don’t think we should legislate by referendums ."
Democrats scoff at this and note that constitutional amendments have been used in the past.

In at least one case, Democrats have already said it is an attempt after a veto by Martinez.

"It's time now to pass a living wage and get it through," Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces said, in the Democratic response to Martinez's State of the State Address. "As a result of the governor's veto, we will approach it as a constitutional amendment."

Another proposed amendment is one that would require a tax expenditure budget. It has passed with little to no opposition each time Senate Majority Whip Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, has pushed for it.

One time he even attempted a veto override after it was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson. The override cleared the Senate but never got a vote in the House.

So now he is turning to a constitutional amendment.

While there are a number of high profile constitutional amendments this year, the overall volume hasn't reached an all-time high -- or even what it was two years ago. As of the end of the week (the legislators went home for at three-day weekend as usual in the first week of a session), there are 18 constitutional amendments introduced*.

John Robertson at the Albuquerque Journal looked at sessions where more constitutional amendments were introduced.
The high point for 30-day legislative sessions since the creation of the Council Service in 1951 is 41 proposed constitutional amendments introduced in 2002. None of those, however, was adopted by lawmakers that year.
There were 39 proposals introduced in the “short session” of 1990, the last year of Gov. Garrey Carruthers.

In in the 30-day session of 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez’s second year in office, 38 constitutional amendment proposals were introduced.
This year, all but one have been introduced by Democrats.

The lone Republican attempt at a constitutional amendment is that by sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, and Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, that would repeal marriage between same-sex couples.

In the 2012 session, 11 of the amendments were sponsored by Republicans.

But perhaps Democratic legislators are just more likely to try for constitutional amendments in general. In 2010, when there 27 proposed constitutional amendments ten were proposed by Republicans and 17. That was the final session of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's second term.

Whether any constitutional amendments make it to the ballot is an open question. Republicans could dig their heels in and, with the aid of conservative Democrats like Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, could kill any initiative before it gets off the ground.

But it is clear that constitutional amendments are something to watch during this legislative session.

* All numbers from the New Mexico Legislature website unless stated otherwise.


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