NM Constitution should remain basic principles

Con-sti-tu-tion

noun

1. a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.

By definition, a constitution is a set of guiding principles, not a mechanism to get something on the books or a way to do an end-run around a branch of government that doesn’t agree with you.

Yet that is what some New Mexico legislators are trying to make the New Mexico Constitution, a 207-page volume adopted Jan. 21, 1911, that sets out broad guidance on broad topics — everything from distribution of powers and three branches of government to water rights, mines and militia — in a scant 24 articles.

One hundred and three years after its adoption, some state lawmakers would use the state’s constitution — New Mexico’s guiding set of principles — to legalize pot for recreational use, raise the minimum wage, raid the state’s land grant permanent fund again for education, revert to an unaccountable state board of education, erase history by expunging criminal records and evaluate the effectiveness of tax breaks.

And those are just the publicized constitutional amendment proposals — while 14 were pre-filed by Friday’s deadline and posted online, more can be introduced during the legislative session, which kicked off today. Constitutional amendments require the approval of the House and Senate, bypass the executive branch and go to voters. Many of the current proposals have failed to get out of the Roundhouse in previous sessions or to get the governor’s signature.

And while there are broad, pressing issues that are appropriate to be put to the people when the Legislature won’t act — gay marriage being the most recent — that should be the driving force of a constitutional amendment. Not just that you can’t get it done.

Passing laws is supposed to be difficult. Just because colleagues won’t stop waiving state law on class sizes or allocate non-recurring funds for recurring uses, just because the governor won’t broaden the criminal records that can be expunged, just because you don’t like the outcome doesn’t mean you try to amend a document designed to be a set of governance principles — not the state’s compilation of laws.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, hit the nail on the head last year when he said lawmakers are entrusted to make the hard choices. “To do this in the constitution like this, and to negate the things we are sent up here for and are supposed to answer for, I just don’t want to do that.”

He’s right. The constitution is and should remain “a body of fundamental principles” — not a detail-oriented micromanaging laundry list that sidesteps the balance of powers it created.

— Albuquerque Journal

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