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New Mexico Supreme Court rejects governor's vetoes

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SANTA FE (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court sided with lawmakers Wednesday in a dispute over the extent of the governor's veto powers, ordering that 10 bills vetoed by Republican Susana Martinez in 2017 go into effect because she offered no immediate explanation to the Legislature.

In oral arguments before the court, an attorney for the Democratic-led Legislature said Martinez made it difficult or impossible to respond to her concerns about proposed legislation by not providing her reasoning in writing, or by waiting until long after the vetoes.

"The Constitution requires the objections must accompany the allegedly vetoed bills," Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said. "Because the objections did not accompany the bills, they became law."

Martinez, a second-term Republican who cannot run for re-election this year, previously said the Legislature was overstepping its authority.

Paul Kennedy, an attorney for the governor, argued Wednesday that lawmakers eventually received written explanations for five of the contested vetoes, leaving enough time to revise the bills or attempt an override vote.

The vetoed bills sought to expand access to high-speed internet, open the way for industrial hemp research programs and allow high school students to count computer science classes toward core math credits needed for graduation, among other provisions.

Legislative leaders said much more was at stake in the constitutional standoff, fearing they might be hamstrung from quickly responding to vetoes during annual legislative sessions that last as few as 30 days.

For most of the session, the governor has three days to veto legislation with an attached explanation. No explanation is needed during the busy closing days of the session.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said the decision reaffirms crucial legislative powers.

"If there is an objection that needs to be fixed, we have time during the session to fix it," he said.

The legal clash over the vetoes extended through a drawn-out feud last year between Martinez and legislative leaders over how to address a state budget crisis.

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

On Wednesday, attorneys for the New Mexico Legislature cited the original framers of the U.S. and New Mexico constitution and their concerns about unchecked veto authority.

Jane Yohalem, an attorney for the Legislature, said Martinez went too far.

"This is something that is pretty much set in stone," Yohalem said. "Everyone (in the Legislature) knows that the bill is back and I've got to go see what the governor's reason is" for the veto.

Meanwhile, the Public Education Department on Tuesday announced a plan that mimics one bill rejected by the governor to provide credit toward high school graduation for computer science classes.