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Referendum battle continues across state

Efforts to remove state laws passed this summer regarding health care continue for a New Mexico group.

The laws in question -- House Bills 4, 7 and 207 along with Senate Bills 13, 180 and 397. HB-7 and SB-13 -- work in tandem, and deal with reproductive and gender-affirming health care and reproductive health provider protections.

Larry Marker, a Chaves County resident and petitioner, has been going across the state to spread the word about efforts for a referendum that would allow voters the option of eliminating the laws.

“What you have to do for the referendum is there has to be 10% of the people that voted in the last general election, sign the referendum. And that's approximately 72,000 people per law,” said Wade Fraze, an educator and coach with Portales schools.

The group named “Better Together New Mexico” has been seeking to put the measures before state voters.

So far, Marker said they are at about 50% with an average of 30,000 signatures per law. “That's probably a conservative estimate,” he said.

Marker said the deadline to have these petitions and the required signatures delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office is four months prior to the 2024 general election.

The referendum project, as Marker calls it, is circulating a petition to gain the required citizens signatory support to place the laws on the ballot for the 2024 general election. Right now, is the petition phase. Once it’s on the ballot that will be the referendum election.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has designated that these laws are for the preservation of public peace, health, and safety, which is why she says this issue is not subject to referendum.

However, Marker said it’s not the secretary’s job to make laws or to prevent private citizens from having them overturned.

So far, Better Together New Mexico has been unable to find a court that will hear the case.

“Eventually this matter will be determined by a court of law, either state, federal or both. The normal strategy for the state and its judiciary is to delay until the parties exhaust their resources or the case becomes a moot point,” Marker said.

He believes this will become moot if the courts delay action past June.

According to Marker, the only court that has said it's not its jurisdiction is District 9 in Roosevelt County.

That hearing took place on Sept. 7. The question up for discussion: Does the secretary of state have the authority to designate laws as exempt from a referendum?

Portales District Judge Donna Mowrer declined to exercise jurisdiction since petitioners had also asked the state’s Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction.

Fraze has been outspoken against the laws.

Fraze told the News that with HB-7, anyone can direct a student to abortion or transgender interventions without notifying parents.

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