Five constitutional amendments on ballot

Kevin Wilson

Five constitutional amendments are up on the November ballot.

Unless specifically noted in the text of the amendment, changes are effective immediately.

Arguments are suggested by the state’s Legislative Council Service staff.

Amendment No. 1: The proposal is to create an exemption of the state’s anti-donation clause, which bars government entities from giving a financial benefit without receiving anything in return.

The exemption would allow the state to establish a veteran’s college scholarship program for military veterans involved in conflicts after Aug. 1, 1990.

The scholarship would exempt those veterans from tuition payments, provided they have exhausted all other educational benefits, have been honorably discharged and were New Mexico residents when they enlisted (or have lived in the state for 10 years and were awarded a campaign medal for service).

Such an amendment already exists for Vietnam veterans, and proponents argue recent veterans deserve the same treatment.

Arguments against the law include lack of coverage for veterans serving between 1975 and 1990, and that education for veterans is a federal responsibility a financially-challenged state should not undertake.

Amendment No. 2: Extend term limits to three terms for county officials.

Article 10, Sec. 2D of the state constitution read, “All county officers, after having served two consecutive four-year terms, shall be ineligible to hold any county office for two years thereafter.”

The amendment would increase the terms to three.

Proponents argue that extending eligible service time allows for good elected officials to remain longer, a priority in low-population counties. Opponents are against a county official having more chance to take advantage of incumbency and become entrenched with special interests.

Amendment No. 3: Article 7, Section 1 of the state constitution reads, “Every citizen of the United States who is over the age of 21 years and has resided in New Mexico 12 months, in the county 90 days, and in the precinct in which he offers to vote 30 days, next preceding the election, except idiots, insane persons and persons convicted of a felonious or infamous crime unless restored to political rights, shall be qualified to vote at all elections for public officers.”

The amendment would shorten the section to remove duration residency requirements and adhere a federal standard, and change the exceptions to, “except as restricted by statute either by reason of criminal conviction for a felony or by reason of mental incapacity, being limited only to those persons who are unable to mark their ballot and who are concurrently also unable to communicate their voting preference.”

The amendment would remove the 1912 reference to “idiots,” but opponents argue limiting the definition of mental incapacity is bad public policy.

Amendment No. 4: Article 8 would be amended to include: “The legislature shall exempt from taxation the property of a veterans’ organization chartered by the United States congress and used primarily for veterans and their families. The burden of proving eligibility for the exemption in this section is on the person claiming the exemption.”

Churches and charitable organizations receive such benefits, but veterans organizations do already receive several benefits and such an amendment would result in a property tax hike on everyone else.

Amendment No. 5: Article 4, Section 28 of the Constitution of New Mexico to allow a member of the Legislature to be appointed to a civil office during the legislative term for which the member was elected.

The legislator must resign from the Legislature prior to being appointed, and the appointment cannot be created (or benefits of the appointment be increased) during the legislator’s term.

Currently, legislators may not be appointed to civil service offices. That ban prevents knowledgeable state legislators from entry into fields for which they may be qualified. But it also helps prevent undue influence by the official who would make the appointment.