Judge: Bills vetoed by New Mexico governor should be law

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By Associated Press

SANTA FE (AP) — A state district judge on Friday sided with Democratic lawmakers who asked that certain vetoes by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez during the last regular legislative session be invalidated, setting the stage for the proposals to become law.

Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the governor did not follow proper procedures when she nixed 10 bills without providing an explanation. The judge directed the Secretary of State's Office to enter the bills in question into their respective chapters of state law once final paperwork is submitted, a process that could take a few weeks.

Martinez's lawyers plan to ask for a stay to keep the bills from becoming law while they appeal the ruling.

"We're disappointed in this decision because there is no question the governor vetoed these bills," said Joe Cueto, a spokesman for the governor. "It's telling how some in the Legislature love running to the courts when they know they don't have the support to override a veto."

Lawmakers had argued that issuing the vetoes without any explanation made it impossible to understand the governor's objections so that they could revise the bills for possible approval.

"The court's decision today is a clear victory for our state Constitution and for the principle that no branch of government is above the law," Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said in a written statement.

The vetoed bills include measures to allow high school students to count their computer science classes toward core math credits needed for graduation and to open the way for state research of industrial hemp.

Members of one teachers union pointed to the measure related to math and science credits, saying it will mark a positive change for New Mexico students.

"Most high school graduates will need some level of computer competency to compete in the world economy. Since students have little choice in their required course of study, this legislation opens needed flexibility to prepare students for college or the workforce," said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association.

The legal clash followed a drawn-out feud between the two-term GOP governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature over how to address a state budget crisis. It was resolved during a special legislative session in May.

Amid the budget wrangling, lawmakers unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn vetoes that threatened to defund all state colleges and the Legislature itself.

Martinez's lawyers had argued that the state Constitution doesn't require the governor to provide an explanation for every piece of vetoed legislation.

The judge cited New Mexico's short and often chaotic legislative sessions, saying the constitutional language requiring a vetoed bill to be returned to lawmakers with objections must by strictly followed. She said the procedure makes for a mandate that must be followed.