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Amending the New Mexico Constitution ought to be more difficult, says Sen. John Ryan, Albuquerque Republican. Ryan has proposed a constitutional amendment to that effect.
Ryan’s Senate Joint Resolution 17 is but one of 34 amendments introduced for consideration during the current legislative session. Bill introductions ended Feb. 5. Senators introduced 330 bills, House members, 357.
SJR 17, while hardly momentous, might be a good idea. Ryan proposes requiring that two-thirds of legislators approve an amendment instead of the current majority. However it would not really address and certainly not solve the salient characteristic of the Constitution, which is that it is often amended. Once blessed by the Legislature, proposed amendments are voted upon at the next general election.
After a quick slog through the 2014 proposed amendments, four ideas stand out — one good, three marginal — and a theme emerges.
The marginal ideas are proposals to regulate moral behavior that I think do not fit in a constitution, which is supposed to outline the fundamental framework of government.
In SJR 6, two Republicans, Farmington Sen. William Sharer and Roswell Rep. Nora Espinoza, want to “define the right of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Though I am no lawyer, calling marriage a “right” is quite different from calling it a “rite.” SJR 10 from Albuquerque Democrat, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, wants to constitutionally legalize marijuana.
The third proposal out of place in a constitution is SJR 13, which wants “a state minimum wage” indexed to inflation. Besides, SJR 13 is a terrible idea. Credit Sen. Richard Martinez, Española Democrat.
The statesman award goes to Sen. Bill O’Neill, Albuquerque Democrat, for the grand notion in SJR 11. O’Neill wants an independent commission to handle the redistricting for state and congressional offices. SJR 16 is a classic clerical proposal.
Sen. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto, Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep Jim Smith, Sandia Park Republican, want to allow the Legislature to set the date that judges must file their declaration of candidacy for retention elections.
In 11 proposed amendments, education is the theme, and Hanna Skandera, still only the designate Secretary of the Public Education Department, shines as the evil if un-named queen. My guess is that the education establishment, unable to beat the administration’s education changes, is turning to amending the Constitution as Plan B.
Skandera even gets her own amendment with HJR 13 from education establishment figure Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who wants to require the education secretary to be something Skandera is not, an “educator licensed in New Mexico.” SJR 23 duplicates HJR 13.
Two plans want to extend indefinitely the 2003 raid on the Land Grant Permanent Fund that directed the increased withdrawal for education. An eventual end to the withdrawal was part of the pitch in 2003. Some of us did not believe that would happen. See HJR 3 and SJR 12.
I did not see an amendment for something totally obviously necessary — pulling Western New Mexico University from its constitutional sanctity so that changing the school’s status to a community college could at least be considered. Were Western to become a two-year school, my guess is that academics would improve.
The 63-year record for amendments introduced is 41 in 2002, reported John Robertson of the Albuquerque Journal. Fortunately, only a minority get legislative approval.
The questions the number of amendments ought to provoke are: Why is all this stuff in the Constitution? With all the deficiencies in our Constitution, might it be valuable, however difficult and risky, to review the whole enchilada? The legislator with that proposal will get a double-statesman award.