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Ethics, transparency legislation dies on the Senate floor (updated)
Proposals to expand legislative webcasting and create a state ethics commission died in the Senate today when the session ended without Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, calling them up for debate.
Instead, as pointed out by Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque and others, Sanchez, who controls the Senate calendar, spent much of the end of the session calling up various memorials for debate. Then the Senate spent the better part of the last hour debating one House bill and more than one proposed amendment to that bill from Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell.
“We’re hearing memorials instead of the ethics and transparency bills,” Griego wrote on The New Mexico Independent’s live blog before the start of debate on the House bill Adair tried to amend. “No idea why we aren’t passing some ethics and transparency bills. Besides being shortsighted, politically bad for the Dems for sure.”
Dead at the end of the session, though they spent the final day on the Senate calendar, were:
• Senate Resolution 1, sponsored by Sanchez, which would have expanded webcasting by increasing the number of cameras on the Senate floor.
• House Joint Memorial 15, sponsored by Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, which would have directed Legislative Council Service to begin webcasting interim committee meetings except where technological barriers prevent it.
Though Lopez’s bill had already lost the support of many activists who have pushed for the creation of an ethics commission because of its secrecy provisions, today’s would have been the first Senate floor debate on an ethics commission ever.
Sanchez said several times during the day that the bill was coming up for debate, then never actually brought it up for debate.
Update, 3 p.m.
Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, had this to say:
“The extra Senate cameras would have been an improvement, but I think the real victory would have been webcasting of Senate committees. So I was disappointed to see that resolution stall in committee, and I hope they’ll revive it next year,” she said. “Considering the sea change that we saw between last year and this year, I’m hoping that next year they’ll open everything up completely and I’ll be out of a job. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“The ethics commission was tough,” she said. “I think the sponsors genuinely want to have a commission that can address ethical violations fairly, but you run into so many different obstacles.”
“Coming in, I had completely underestimated how much fear there is that a commission will open the floodgates for nasty, false, reputation-ruining accusations. That fear informed the entire debate about confidentiality, which was our big concern,” she said. “It’s not an unreasonable fear, since some people probably would abuse the process. You know, my reputation is on the line too – I’m a lobbyist, so the commission would have jurisdiction over me. I’m pretty sure an ethical complaint against the FOG director would get a lot of attention, and I’d be ruined.”
“So I get it. But that deep emotional response, which was palpable during all the ethics-commission discussions, makes it difficult to have a reasoned debate about what’s ultimately best for restoring the public trust and exposing unethical behavior,” Welsh said.
Update, 3:20 p.m.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish had this to say:
“After all of the talk and posturing, it’s simply unconscionable that the Legislature would walk away without passing a bill to establish a non-partisan, independent ethics commission,” she said. “This is exactly why many New Mexicans have lost faith in their government. We need a new way of doing business in Santa Fe and we need it now.”