Ten bills that a judge says Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed illegally during this year’s legislative session, including a high-profile measure legalizing research on hemp, will become law after all.
For now, at least.
State District Judge Sarah Singleton overturned the two-term Republican governor’s vetoes last month and this week denied a request by lawyers representing Martinez to stop the bills from becoming law while an appeal is pending.
The governor is appealing Singleton’s decision to void her vetoes of the bills. She has hired one of her confidants, attorney Paul Kennedy, in hopes of overturning Singleton’s decision. Kennedy recently filed a notice of appeal. The case heads next to the New Mexico Court of Appeals in a process that could take months and drag out a battle over the governor’s veto power while casting questions over the future of the new laws.
Two measures on hemp had been closely watched and created the most explosive discussion after Martinez vetoed them. The sponsor of one of the bills for researching industrial hemp, Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley, of Albuquerque, said he couldn’t wait for Martinez to leave office so New Mexico could progress. McSorley celebrated Thursday (Oct. 5) after Singleton’s latest ruling.
“I am glad the court upheld our constitution today, and I am glad for the farmers of New Mexico who are finally going to have a cash crop. It is long overdue,” he said in a statement.
McSorley sponsored Senate Bill 6, which had been years in the making and received support from an unlikely coalition of Republicans and Democrats with language to address concerns the governor had previously raised about legalizing hemp research.
The bill calls for the state Department of Agriculture to issue licenses to grow industrial hemp for research and development purposes. The bill does not mention commercial hemp production, which was part of a 2015 measure that Martinez vetoed. Moreover, the bill includes a provision for training police officers to be able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Kennedy had argued the law would conflict with another piece of legislation in the suit concerning hemp. But Singleton had said that, as on other occasions when the Legislature passes conflicting bills, the most recent one will be considered law.
While the state will now have to figure out the logistics of how to usher in an era of hemp productions, some Taos County residents already involved in small-scale hemp production for religious purposes are harvesting a crop.
Wumaniti Earth Native Sanctuary, a Taos-based organization that for two seasons has grown ceremonial hemp and publicized its cultivation, planned to harvest about 10 acres of the crop in the coming week.
The 10-acre crop was watered with an acequia and grown in Questa on land owned by a brother of Mayor Mark Gallegos. A mine that for decades provided the bulk of Questa’s economic activity shuttered in 2014 and residents and strategic planners have been trying to come up with a viable way to replace that type of financial stability while retaining the area’s agricultural heritage.
“I’m excited to see what this new crop can do for this area … [to] not rely so heavily on alfalfa. It’s going to bring a new flavor to the use of land and water,” said Mayor Gallegos.
A 2016 report from the Hemp Industries Association estimated the nationwide retail sales for hemp products – hemp foods, textiles, personal care and cannabidiol products, as well as car parts – in 2015 at $573 million.
“Hemp is something all of Northern New Mexico could look for right now,” he said of the recent decision by Singleton.
Singleton’s decision is the first addressing a particular facet of the governor’s veto power. And the legal battle over the bills Martinez tried to scrap could more clearly define – and limit – the executive branch’s power in the future.
“There’s no question the governor vetoed these bills,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said in an email. “Like we’ve said all along, this is the latest example of Santa Fe politicians wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want.”
The judge reversed the 10 vetoes because Martinez did not provide any explanation when she nixed the measures during an acrimonious stretch of the 60-day legislative session.
Leading Democratic lawmakers, who challenged the vetoes, pointed to a line in the state constitution that says a governor has three days when lawmakers are in session to either sign a bill or veto it by returning the bill “to the house in which it originated, with his objections.”
The governor argued she acted within her authority, but Singleton agreed with lawmakers. She decided that Martinez owed at least some sort of explanation when she vetoed the bills.
The legislation included measures other than allowing research of industrial hemp. One bill gives local governments a new option to pay for expanding broadband service, and another allows high school students to earn required science and math credits by taking computer classes.
The vetoes caught many legislators by surprise. Though Martinez offered no explanation publicly for vetoing the bills, lawmakers had theories.
The governor had been feuding with Democrats, who control the Legislature. Martinez nixed six of the bills the day after the state Senate voted to override her veto of a bill to allow more sick leave for teachers. The override was championed by a Republican, Sen. Craig Brandt, of Rio Rancho. But senators on both sides of the aisle publicly speculated whether Martinez’s vetoes might have been in retaliation for the override. Republican members of the House of Representatives later closed ranks to stop the override attempt.
Before the Secretary of State’s Office began putting the 10 laws onto the books after Singleton’s decision, attorneys for Martinez asked the judge to issue a stay while they considered appealing her decision.
In rejecting that request, Singleton cast doubt on whether the governor will have much of a chance if she files an appeal.
“The likelihood of success on appeal weighs against the issuance of the stay,” Singleton wrote in an order. “The public interest in giving force to the state constitution and its provisions governing the role of the Legislature and the governor in the enactment of legislation also weighs against the stay.”
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Thursday her office began to chapter the bills – formally putting the legislation into law books – after she received Singleton’s order. Each bill is to take effect immediately.
Democrats cheered Singleton’s decision.
“Better late than never,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the legislation to allow high schools to count computer science classes toward the credits students are required to earn in science and math to graduate.
The bill cleared the Legislature without opposition and won support from business groups, such as the Association of Commerce and Industry.
The governor vetoed more than 140 bills after this year’s 60-day legislative session. She signed about 135. She also used her power to veto individual budget items to take away funding for colleges, universities and the Legislature itself. Martinez reversed the collegiate and legislative vetoes during a special session in May.
Cody Hooks contributed reporting to this story. The New Mexican is a sister publication of The Taos News. Contact Oxford at (505) 986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.
Vetoed bills that will become law
House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez, D-La Mesa, would allow the state to begin licensing farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.
Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, would allow the state to begin licensing farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.
SB 134, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria and Rep. Debra M. Sariñana, both Albuquerque Democrats, would allow high school students to count computer science courses toward the math or science credits needed to graduate.
SB 184, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, would amend the Horse Racing Act to clarify exceptions to conduct requiring denial or revocation of an occupational license, as well as define the time period for denial of license. It would authorize the state racing commission to revoke occupational licenses for a period not to exceed five years if the licensee tried to use or conspired with others to use an electrical or mechanical device for affecting the speed or stamina of a racehorse.
HB 126, sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, would amend the policy for awarding scholarships to favor medical students who promise to work in underserved areas.
SB 24, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, would give local governments a new option to pay for expansion of broadband access.
SB 64, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would allow the Public School Capital Outlay Council to continue budgeting up to $10 million of the public school capital outlay fund for education technology initiatives.
SB 67, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, would require that the county treasurer be notified of the formation of any tax increment development district within that county.
SB 356, sponsored by Rodriguez, would require that the county treasurer be notified of the formation of any public improvement district within that county.
SB 222, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, would change the definition of “political subdivision,” cutting the number of entities under the oversight of a watchdog office in the Department of Finance and Administration by an estimated 141 entities.
This story was first published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, a sister publication of The Taos News. It has been updated and added to with information regarding Gov. Martinez’s appeal and industry information. Taos News reporter Cody Hooks contributed to this story.