New Mexico sees rare spike in referendum proposals
SANTA FE - Republicans in the New Mexico House of Representatives are not the only ones who want a referendum on the ballot in next year's general election.
While the House GOP is calling for a vote on a new gun control law, the Secretary of State's Office has received several other proposals for referendums on everything from a ban on coyote-killing contests to a new labor law and a provision about migratory corridors for wildlife.
Whether these issues ever clear the high bar to make it on the ballot, the number of such proposals is unusual and could mark an end to the relative obscurity of a rarely used section in the state constitution that allows voters to repeal laws through the ballot box. It also could be the start of a new reckoning over New Mexico's tight limits on direct democracy, which were born in the era of robber barons but today exist in stark contrast to neighboring states like Colorado, where voters wield broader power at the polls.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has refused to certify proposed petitions for a referendum on a gun background check law, Senate Bill 8, noting that the New Mexico Constitution does not allow for referendums on laws "providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety."
House Republican leaders and Nick Maxwell, a private citizen from Hobbs, had submitted such proposals. House Republicans have not ruled out taking the issue to court, arguing it is not up to the secretary of state to unilaterally decide whether the issue falls under the "public peace, health or safety" category.
The other proposed referendums, put forward by an organization called the Roosevelt County Patriots, might not fall under the same exception.
The organization describes itself as seeking to "build an alliance among residents of Roosevelt County, against the unconstitutional laws being ramrodded through in Santa Fe," referring to what it describes as "anti-gun measures, anti-wall, anti-oil/gas industry or the extreme measures recently pushed through for abortion."
The group submitted three proposed petitions earlier this month. One called for a vote on SB 76, bipartisan legislation to ban coyote-killing contests. Another called for a vote on House Bill 85, which prohibits local governments from creating so-called right-to-work laws by banning unions from requiring that employees pay fees as part of an employment contract. The third called for a vote on repealing SB 228, a Democratic bill that calls on state officials to create a plan for protecting wildlife corridors.
The Secretary of State's Office initially rejected each for technical reasons. But the group plans to resubmit the proposed petitions.
A spokesman for the office said this week it had not determined whether the laws targeted by Roosevelt County Patriots fall under the "public peace, health or safety" provision of the state constitution.
But there are other provisions limiting which laws qualify for what is also known as a veto referendum.
The constitution does not allow referendums on the state budget, on laws "for the maintenance of the public schools or state institutions," or on "local or special laws."
To get a referendum on the ballot, proponents would need to gather more than 70,000 signatures from at least 10 percent of the qualified electors of three-fourths of the state's counties.
That is a relatively high bar.
Still, the state has not seen this much interest in a referendum since a 2009 effort by law enforcement officials to repeal a law that banned the death penalty in New Mexico. The campaign never got the issue on the ballot.
New Mexico has only held three such referendums and has only repealed one law through the process: an excise tax on cigarettes in 1930.