Inside the Capitol

Sunday, March 05, 2006

3-8 Gov's Signing Deadline

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Wednesday, March 8, is Gov. Bill Richardson's deadline for signing or vetoing bills. Governors are given 20 days following the end of a legislative session to wade through all bills the Legislature passes.
It is unclear whether that deadline arrives at noon or midnight. Since legislative sessions end at noon, the general assumption is that the signing deadline also is at noon.
But the law is unclear, so a bill signed between noon and midnight may be constitutional, but would be vulnerable to court challenge if it were the least bit controversial.
There is no problem with a governor vetoing a bill after the deadline, but there is no reason for him to do that. Any bill not acted upon by the deadline is automatically vetoed. The inaction is popularly called a pocket veto.
The only difference is that governors send a message to the house of origination explaining reasons for a veto. Pocket vetoes are deemed a signal from the governor that the measure is sufficiently unimportant to not warrant an explanation.
Most bills aren't passed until the final few days of a session, especially of it is only a 30-day session. If a bill is passed more than three days before the end of a session, it must be acted upon by the governor before the session ends.
If the governor vetoes such a bill, the Legislature has an opportunity to override the veto. For that reason, lawmakers try to get bills to the governor early, especially the big appropriations bill. The effort this year ran afoul of the Senate's plodding pace.
The pile of bills that pass at the end of a session create a tremendous workload for House and Senate staffs, which must carefully put every bill in final form, with its amendments woven in, before sending it to the governor.
This "enrolling and engrossing" action takes a chunk of the 20-day time period the governor has to consider them. On more than one occasion, Gov. Richardson has complained about not getting bills in time to give them proper consideration.
He sometimes has used that slowness as a reason for pocket vetoes. Occasionally, the governor will not receive a bill for which he already has scheduled a signing ceremony.
Traditionally, the governor will call a news conference shortly after the bill-signing deadline to provide his spin on bills signed, bills vetoed and what it all means.
A part of the latter is very likely to be some comments about a special session. At the end of the regular session, Richardson expressed his disappointment with bills not passed and said he would like to hear from New Mexicans before deciding the following week whether to call a special session.
The following week the governor's office announced it had heard from 350 people, 80 percent of whom wanted a special session. The only mention of specifics were calls from road contractors wanting another shot at passing the $250 million road bill that got stalled in the Senate. Richardson made no announcement that week.
A week later, Richardson met for an hour with House and Senate leaders. He still made no announcement after that meeting and legislators who attended said he didn't tip his hand either.
Since that session lasted only an hour, there obviously were no agreements hammered out on issues likely to be on the agenda. Without such agreements, a special session would only produce the same controversies as the regular session.
A stalemated special session would be a further embarrassment to the governor and it wouldn't serve the purpose of anyone who has to campaign for office this spring. House members would be prevented from raising campaign funds during a special session. The governor can't raise money during the session or during the 20-day bill-signing period afterward.
So it isn't very likely Gov. Richardson will announce a special session any time soon
WED, 3-08-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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