Pocket veto politics
The City of Santa Fe’s No. 1 priority in this year’s legislative session went to a silent and unceremonious death. Governor Martinez pocket vetoed Senate Bill 8, legislation proposed to close a legal loophole in state law that currently allows new condominiums to circumvent local zoning requirements.
Supported by the city’s Land Use Department, neighborhoods and the New Mexico Municipal League, SB 8 was not a mandate on local governments, but offered cities and counties the option of requiring zoning compliance with the formation of new condominiums. Had SB 8 been signed into law, it would have stopped the legal uncertainties facing purchasers and land use planners dealing with non-compliant condos. It also would have helped our neighborhoods maintain the integrity that zoning ordinances provide.
A lot of work went into SB 8. When first proposed by the city in January 2010, the language in the proposed bill was opposed by some realtors and land-use lawyers. To address these concerns, instead of introducing legislation in the 2010 30-day session, a draft bill was presented to the Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee last summer. All parties worked together to reach consensus and propose legislation that the interim committee unanimously endorsed.
The compromise bill in the 2011 session was not amended in any of the four committees to which it was assigned – two in the Senate and two in the House. There were also no votes against the bill in any of these four committees and the bill passed the House and Senate with the unanimous support of Democrats, Republicans and the one House independent.
Yet, Governor Martinez added SB 8 to the list of 63 bills she pocket vetoed. It joined 18 other bills that passed both legislative chambers unanimously and were pocket vetoed and another 20 that had fewer than eight votes in opposition in both the House and the Senate combined.
Setting a tone
What was it about SB 8 that led the governor to ignore the unanimous vote of the Legislature? Does the governor support the use of condominiums to bypass local zoning density requirements? We do not know since legislation that is pocket vetoed dies without an official explanation.
The pocket veto is a constitutional option granted to the governor that she has every right to exercise for any reason. It is often used for “duplicate bills” when the House and Senate each pass the same bill and only one is signed into law. A few of the bills pocket vetoed this year were duplicate bills, and others were duplicates of bills that were vetoed with an official explanation.
But for those bills like SB 8 that passed unanimously, or with few votes in opposition, and died without explanation, it is hard to come up with a reason other than pure politics.
Pocket vetoing large numbers of bills may be a badge of political honor in some circles, but vetoing bills just because you can is not good governing. And, perhaps of most concern, it sets a tone that does not bode well for future legislative sessions.
Wirth, a Democrat, represents the Santa Fe-area District 25 in the New Mexico Senate.