Any discussion regarding the two bills moving through the legislature that would create an ethics commission must begin and end with stating 75 percent of New Mexicans voted for the Constitutional amendment in November 2018 that would create the commission.
Three-fourths of New Mexicans want more accountability in government, especially when it comes to elected representatives and senators.
A simple request, the problem arises from the very people we want held accountable have been handed the task of establishing the commission. When the foxes must set up the rules and protections for the hen house, expect weak fences, plenty of tunnels and faulty latches.
When we passed the amendment, most New Mexicans probably naively thought they had sent a mandate to legislators to create an accountable commission that would keep them informed.
We have a House bill that sort of does that and a sister Senate bill that is so far from what the public clearly wants, we question whether the sponsor was around for the November vote or read the amendment at all.
House Bill 4 is the more public-friendly of the two bills. Senate Bill 619 falls flat when it comes to transparency. SB 619 is sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo. She is the chair of Senate Rules Committee. Guess where SB 619 has been languishing since its introduction 41 days ago? Yes, Senate Rules.
An hour before that Committee met Monday Lopez released a substitute bill that resolved some of the problems, but not all.
Her bill was draconian in respect to transparency. Not only did Lopez not want the pubic to know about ethics complaints at any stage of an investigation, review or finding, she threw in a clause that would make it a criminal offense if a person filed a complaint and spoke about it. The commission would work with the attorney general or appropriate district attorney to prosecute that person.
Fortunately at this point of the Roundhouse circus, she will be hard-pressed to move her bill across the goal line: the governor’s desk. Ditto on the substitute bill which half the Committee thumbed its noses at Monday.
Unfortunately, HB 4, the better ethics commission bill, sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, has made its way out of the House, with great support and has landed in Lopez’s Senate Rules Committee. Ely’s HB 4 would give the public access to complaints after a determination has been made and does not penalize people for exercising their first amendment right to free speech. It gives the commission subpoena power, instead of filing motions with a district court to get a hearing, then maybe a subpoena.
We can count on Lopez to muddy the waters, which HB 4 have made clear. She did that with her substitute bill, to which Ely did not agree.
A few members of the Committee rightly said after the substitute bill failed, “We have to pass something out of the Committee before we adjourn.” Different members tried to move all three bills on to judiciary and no consensus could be reached.
There will be a mad push after our press time to get something on the governor’s desk by Saturday afternoon. We don’t know what that will look like, but it’s not going to be what everyone wanted. That’s the definition of a settlement after negotiation.