Voters in New Mexico haven’t decided a citizen-initiated ballot measure since 1964, and voters haven’t repealed a law at the ballot since 1930. Some House Republicans, including Minority Leader James Townsend and Minority Whip Rod Montoya, are seeking to place a veto referendum before New Mexicans in 2020.
The veto referendum targets the repeal of Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which was signed into law on March 8, 2019. SB 8 was designed to require background checks for firearm sales, including sales between unlicensed persons. Under SB 8, sales between unlicensed persons need to go through a person with a license to perform a background check, and the person could charge up to $35.00 to perform the background check.
Townsend and Montoya informed Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) of their intent to file a referendum petition to repeal SB 8 on March 7, 2019. On March 21, Oliver denied the petition, saying there were legal deficiencies. She said that courts have ruled that laws “providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety” were exempt from veto referendums, per Section 1 of Article IV of the New Mexico Constitution. Oliver stated, “The legislature enacted the background check law with the purpose of increasing public peace, health, and safety and thus the law is not subject to referendum.”
On April 1, Rep. Townsend sent a letter to Secretary of State Oliver, which said, “Neither the secretary of state nor the attorney general has the authority to unilaterally determine if a given piece of legislation meets the public peace, health and safety standard described by the New Mexico Constitution.” He added, “New Mexicans are constitutionally permitted to decide by referendum their choice on this consequential legislation.” Rep. Townsend also refiled the referendum petition.
In New Mexico, signatures for veto referendums are due 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session in which the targeted law was approved. The New Mexico State Legislature adjourned on March 16, meaning the signature deadline is June 14, 2019. Proponents of veto referendums need to collect 70,165 signatures to put targeted bills before voters. An additional 105,248 signatures are needed to suspend a law until the election.