--2 IN SESSION: Proposal would require higher standards for constitutional amendments
Sept. 23, 2017
john ryan

IN SESSION: Proposal would require higher standards for constitutional amendments

Senator wants two-thirds of legislature to pass amendments onto voters

January 30, 2014, 4:00 pm
By Matthew Reichbach
A proposed constitutional amendment would make future constitutional amendments more difficult to pass in the state legislature.

Sen. John Ryan, R-Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, introduced SJR 17 which would require a two-thirds vote from each chamber on constitutional amendments before voters would get a say. The state constitution currently requires that a simple majority of each chamber is all that is required put a constitutional on a ballot for voters.

 Ryan says the rule isn't aimed at making it more difficult for amendments to pass, just that a measure would find more consensus.

"It might mean that it needs to be more widely support amongst the members of both bodies," Ryan says. "It just makes it a little more difficult so we don't get a plethora of amendments to the constitution cluttering up the ballot, increasing the costs of printing the ballots and printing the underlying descriptions in the newspapers and that sort of stuff."

Constitutional amendments have been a hot topic this year. Republicans have said that Democrats are using constitutional amendments as a way to circumvent the governor.  It's true, some constitutional amendments on the table now are from legislation that was vetoed by Martinez in the past -- such as a tax expenditure report.

Ryan said it was unclear if any amendments introduced this year would be able to reach the threshold -- although if his proposal becomes law it would not go into effect into next year's session.

Two proposed constitutional amendments that passed last year would have each reached the two-thirds number required in Ryan's amendment had it been in place. Ryan fears too many constitutional amendment questions could crowd the ballot.

"If more than three or four or five pass this session, you could potentially be looking at a second page of a ballot once you include the county issues on the ballot and any municipal referendums," Ryan said. "Those also contribute to the lengthiness of the ballot and the cost of printing."

Other states' requirements

So how many states require a two-thirds majority from the legislature to amend the constitution? It's complicated.

According to Ballotpedia, New Mexico is one of ten states that requires just a simple majority in each chamber in one session to amend the state constitution. Seven states require a simple majority in two consecutive session. Nine states require 60 percent in each chamber and 16 require a two-thirds majority (three require a two-thirds majority in some but not all instances). Then there are 17 states the require a two-thirds majority in each chamber in one session while three others require a two-thirds vote at "some point during the process." Four states require either either simple majorities in two consecutive sessions or a two-thirds majority in one session, and Delaware requires votes in two consecutive sessions but voters do not get to weigh in.

History of constitutional amendment requirements

New Mexico almost had an even more strict way of changing the state constitution. A publication by the Legislative Council Service outlined the requirements the framers of the state constitution originally wanted.
As adopted in 1910, Article 19 required that a legislative proposal for an amendment have a two-thirds' vote of the elected members of each house voting separately. The only exception was for amendments proposed at the first regular session convening two years after the adoption of the constitution and at each session convening every eighth year thereafter. No more than three amendments could be submitted at any one election.

Approval of the proposed amendment required an affirmative 40 percent vote of the people in at least one-half of the counties in the state. In addition, special protection was provided for Article 7, Sections 1 and 3, pertaining to election law, and Article 12, Sections 8 and 10, pertaining to education. No amendment could be submitted to these sections "unless it be proposed by a vote of three-fourths of the members elected to each house voting separately. . .". As the final clincher, no amendment could be made to these requirements except by a constitutional convention.
Congress ultimately said that in order to become a state, New Mexico needed to have an amendment on the ballot with a lower threshold to amend the constitution -- not to pass the amendment, but merely put it on the ballot.

And for certain sections of the state constitution, New Mexico actually requires a 75 percent majority in each chamber. Again, from Piecemeal Amendment of the Constitution of New Mexico 1911 to 2012:
Under these provisions, no amendment restricting the rights created by Article 7, Sections 1 and 3 and Article 12, Sections 8 and 10 can be proposed except by a three-fourths' vote of the members elected to each house of the legislature voting separately. Further, any amendment to Article 7, Section 1 or 3 or Article 12, Section 10 and any amendment restricting the rights created by Article 12, Section 8 must be ratified by a vote of the people by at least three-fourths of those voting in the whole state. Until 1968, there was an added requirement that any such amendment must also receive an approving vote of at least two-thirds of those voting in each county of the state.
Because of these incredibly high thresholds, they are called the "unamendable" sections of the Constitution. Article 7 of the state Constitution was actually amended once to create absentee voting in the state. In that case, it received a 75 percent majority but not the required two-thirds majority in each county. The New Mexico Supreme Court struck down the county requirement at that time.


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