A lot of the most interesting and polarizing pieces of legislation introduced this session have been on constitutional amendments.
Although Republicans have pitched some of their own, including one to outlaw same sex marriage and another one to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments, the majority have been introduced by Democrats.
In fact, because Gov. Susana Martinez has veto power, two of the Democratic party’s top priorities are tied to constitutional amendments (minimum wage and early childhood education).
But as hard as it is to get anything controversial through the House and Senate is these days, there is currently an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to constitutional amendments.
The problem has to do with the health of two Democratic representatives currently out of action. Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, is still recovering from a hip injury. Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, is reportedly still out because of a spider bite.
That leaves the Democrats with a slim 35-33 edge in the House until one or both can come back.
Now a standard bill can pass the House on a party line vote right now, 35-33. But a constitutional amendment can not.
Here’s a quote from the constitution to explain why.
An amendment or amendments to this constitution may be proposed in either house of the legislature at a regular session; and if a majority of all members elected to each of the two houses voting separately votes in favor thereof, the proposed amendment or amendments shall be entered on their respective journals with the yeas and nays thereon.
In the 70-member House, “a majority of all members elected” means that a constitutional amendment has to have at a minimum 36 votes to pass.
As things stand now, if Chavez or Archuleta aren’t healthy enough to come back, Democrats can’t get any constitutional amendments through the House without at least one Republican jumping ship. At this point, that doesn’t seem likely.
Even without that obstacle, the minimum wage amendment appears to have run into a major road block with Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, saying he won’t vote for it in committee. That effectively leaves that amendment stuck in the mud without some rare and unusual maneuvering on the Senate side.
INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY
This proposal by Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, aims to cut down on the number of constitutional amendments that ultimately make it onto the ballot.
His change is simple… Any constitutional amendment would require a 2/3rds vote, a super majority, in the House and Senate in order to get on the ballot.
Correction: Whenever possible we try and get it right on legislative coverage. In the 4:30 PM show on a story about SJR 14, Sen. Michael Sanchez’s constitutional amendment dealing with criminal expungement, our script said “THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT WOULD ALLOW PEOPLE WHO WERE VICTIMS OF IDENTITY THEFT, NOT CONVICTED OF A CRIME OR ONLY FOUND GUILTY OF A MISDEMEANOR WHICH INCLUDES SOME DWI’S ……TO ERASE PAST RECORDS.”
The problem with that is that while the constitutional amendment does provide for a misdemeanor conviction to be expunged in some cases, the amendment explicitly says that the specific crimes eligible to be expunged would be put in statute by legislators.
Last session, Sen. Sanchez was able to get a bill on the governor’s desk specifically outlining crimes that would be eligible and, among other crimes, DWI’s were specifically exempted.
Looking at the amendment and Sen. Sanchez’s bill last session in context, it’s clear that while not malicious, that script was not accurate in regards to DWI’s. Although I did not personally add the detail about DWI’s to the story, as our station’s reporter for the session I try and be accountable for any errors that come up.
With that being said, I apologize to Sen. Sanchez for the error.