Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Changes proposed for judges, use of state funds

Voters fill out ballots in the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Annex. New Mexico legislators are considering changes to election laws for judges, as well as boosting access to utilities. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/)

Copyright © 2022

SANTA FE – Separate proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot would amend the state Constitution to revise how quickly some judges must stand for election and to authorize the spending of public money to help connect residential areas to the internet and other essential services.

Each proposal passed the Legislature earlier this year, sending the questions to voters in the general election.

Here’s a look at the proposals:

Constitutional Amendment 2 would create a new exemption in the state’s anti-donation clause, which generally prohibits directly appropriating state money to businesses, nonprofit groups and private parties.

There are already exceptions for economic development, college scholarships and similar projects.

But this year’s ballot measure would allow New Mexico to spend public funds to help connect homes to internet, electricity, water and similar services, contingent on lawmakers enacting a law with safeguards on the use of the money.

Supporters say the amendment would boost access to essential utilities, especially in rural areas werved by the private sector.

About 20% of homes and businesses in New Mexico, for example, are not served by broadband internet, meaning residents don’t have access to distance learning, remote work or online health care, according to state documents.

Opponents say the proposal is too broad, doesn’t adequately safeguard public money and further weakens the anti-donation clause protections against corruption.

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Constitutional Amendment 3 calls for an appointed judge to serve at least a year on the bench before going up for election.

In New Mexico, state judges are appointed by the governor from a list of nominees screened by a commission.

The person is then a candidate in the next partisan election.

But, depending on the timing of an appointment, a judge might have to stand for election just a couple of months after appointment.

Supporters say giving the person at least one year on the bench would ensure voters have time to evaluate the judge’s performance and make it easier to recruit applicants. A private attorney, for example, is not likely to give up a well-established law practice for just a few months on the bench.

Opponents say the proposal could result in an unelected judge on the bench for three years, delaying a decision that should be up to voters. The amendment might also trigger litigation over which judges it applies to – just Appeals Court judges, or Metro and District Court judges as well, according to legislative documents.

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