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Voters to weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments

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Candidates for political office will not be the only items on New Mexico ballots this November.

When New Mexico voters cast their ballots they will weigh in on two proposed amendments to the New Mexico Constitution.

One proposed constitutional amendment would grant the State Legislature the power to provide for appellate jurisdiction in statute, while the second would establish a State Ethics Commission.

Article 19 of the New Mexico State Constitution states that an amendment can be proposed by lawmakers in either house of the Legislature during a regular session.

Amendments can also be proposed by an independent commission created by law to do so, before being submitted to, reviewed by and voted on by the Legislature, according to the state constitution.

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If it passes the Legislature with a simple majority, the amendment will than be voted on during the next statewide election. If the proposed amendment receives the support of three-fourths of the people who voted in that election, the amendment is then adopted.

The 2018 General Election Voter Guide posted on the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website states that Constitutional Amendment 1 would amend Article 6, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution to provide the Legislature the authority to decide the court that will hear a case decided in probate, metropolitan, magistrate or other lower courts.

It would also remove the default requirement that appeals of cases decided in those courts be heard through a new trial in district court. Under the current system, cases can be appealed to district court, whose decision can then be heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The current system requires three levels of review for minor criminal cases, while more serious felony cases start in district court but only receive two levels of judicial review, the voter guide states.

Supporters state that the amendment would make the appeals process less costly, more efficient and allow the legislature to tailor the appellate review process to the seriousness of the criminal offense, the guide states.

Opponents of the proposed amendment state that because cases from lower courts would be added to appeals courts, their workload would increase and not become more efficient. The guide states the proposed change might not mean greater efficiency and that district courts are best fitted to establish a record for review.

The second proposed constitutional amendment would create an Independent State Ethics Commission with the power to investigate, decide and issue opinions about governing ethics and conduct.

The new amendment would amend Article Five, which pertains to the state’s Executive Department.

The guide states if the amendment is ratified by voters, the commission would have jurisdiction over state officers and government employees as well as candidates, lobbyists, election seekers and government contractors.

Supporters of the proposed amendment say it would send a message of support for the adoption of stronger ethical standards. Opinions could also bring clarity to ethical guidelines and encourage better ethics in state government, and the commission could not be abolished by the Legislature, the guide states. The commission could only be abolished through passage of another constitutional amendment.

The guide states that opponents of the proposed amendment argue a constitutional amendment is not needed to establish such a commission. Opponents also say a commission could be expensive and in some cases be redundant in duplicating existing efforts.

Because the legislature would be tasked with making appointments to the commission, deciding qualifications to sit on the commission, and must pass the laws governing it, opponents also question how independent the commission would be.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.