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Our view: Veto, veto — but no explanations

March 16, 2017 GMT

Separation of powers, obviously, requires a Legislature to pass laws and an executive to sign or reject them. In certain cases, a judiciary might have to weigh in on whether laws pass constitutional muster. Each branch of government has a role to play, and so it goes at the New Mexico Legislature as it winds down its 60-day session this week.

What can upset progress, though, is when the actions of one branch throw a wrench in the system. A Legislature that fails in its duty to enact laws — perhaps because of partisan gridlock — or that seeks to use the process to reward friends or punish enemies, puts the system out of whack. So can a judiciary that rules in a partisan fashion, paying attention to politics rather than legal principles.

Most puzzling during the 2017 legislative session, though, are the decisions of Gov. Susana Martinez, who is using her veto pen without adequate explanation and in a manner that lacks logic and thought. Her inability to work with lawmakers to get legislation through is more than just a difference of opinion; it’s costing taxpayers the millions they spend to fund legislative sessions as well as dollars the state loses by failing to pass bills that will create jobs and grow the economy.

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We’ve written before about legislation to allow some cultivation of industrial hemp; Martinez vetoed both hemp-related bills, although the one allowing planting for research appears to have been revived. Martinez apparently is working with sponsors to get this one passed, an improvement on simply killing sensible legislation without a reason.

But she also vetoed Senate Bill 134, which would have allowed a unit of computer science to count toward a high school student’s graduation requirements in either math or science. It passed with bipartisan majorities — 33-4 in the Senate and 67-0 in the House — and Martinez’s own Public Education Department backed the bill. Thirty-two other states have similar laws. Her veto makes no sense, especially without a message outlining her reasons.

Consider another measure, which passed both chambers without a single dissenting vote and still was vetoed. Senate Bill 67 would have required county treasurers to be notified about the creation of tax diversion districts. Didn’t matter to the governor. She vetoed it. Why? Who knows? Listing all her vetoes — most on Wednesday — would take up too much room here.

There was a veto of what we believe to be one of the most important bills of the session — the bipartisan Senate Bill 24, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla and Rep. Jim Smith. It would have streamlined laws to make local government investment in broadband infrastructure easier. Expanding internet access is critical to New Mexico rebuilding its economy.

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After all, we learned during this last week of the session that the state now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 6.7 percent. Those job woes connect directly to the issue of expanding the state’s broadband capabilities. New Mexico ranks 48th in the nation in internet connection speed, and a Federal Communications Commission study holds that a 7 percent increase in broadband adoption could create some 15,000 jobs in New Mexico. All would agree that New Mexico desperately needs those jobs.

Even more confounding is that the broadband bill passed the Senate by a vote of 37-1 and was moved out of the House unanimously. This bill had broad support — except, it seems, from a governor who did not explain her disagreement. These cavalier vetoes are beginning to pile up, damaging the governor’s credibility with voters and members of her own party.

Consider what is happening on another bill Martinez vetoed, albeit with an explanation. The governor nixed House Bill 241 to keep a teacher’s absentee rate from negatively impacting performance evaluations. The bill would have allowed teachers to use their allotted days of sick leave without penalty; right now, more than three days off causes deductions in their evaluations.

The Senate — led by a Republican, mind you — voted 34-7 to override Martinez’s veto. This marked the first time either chamber of the Legislature overrode Martinez. Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho showed both courage and leadership in doing so. As he told reporters afterward, “I doubt that I’ll have many bills signed by this governor in the next two years.” Both chambers must agree with a two-thirds majority, so Martinez’s veto will stand if the House does not join in.

Vetoes are part of the process — but vetoes without explanation don’t contribute to compromise, especially when legislation has backing from all sides. Martinez’s actions make no sense. That seems to be business as usual this legislative session.