Our legislative session began last Tuesday, January 19, 2016, and runs for 30 days, ending on February 18 at noon. Since this is a “short” session (compared to odd numbered years when we get a whopping 60 days), it is limited in what can be discussed, debated and heard.
First, it is a budget session – the most critical issue our legislators need to do over the next few weeks is agree on and pass a state budget. And that isn’t going to be easy with the state coffers losing more each day as the oil prices keep dropping – oil and gas account for about one third of our budget, and we are looking at a lot less than predicted even a month ago.
Next, the other issues that are germane. This includes items the Governor puts on her “call” and sends a message for, constitutional amendments that only need to go through both chambers before going to a vote by the people, and anything that was vetoed by the Governor last session.
So what does this mean for Common Cause New Mexico and good, transparent, accountable government?
First, ETHICS! Over the past year, New Mexico has seen a historic number of high profile ethics scandals involving their trusted public officials. While the vast majority of elected officials in New Mexico are honest, hard-working people, those who have violated the law, with no oversight from the Legislature or the executive branch, have systematically destroyed the public’s trust.
According to a January 2016 poll conducted by Research & Polling, Inc., eighty-five percent (85%) of New Mexicans are now asking our legislature to take immediate action and create an Independent Ethics Commission.
State government is tasked with serving the needs of all of New Mexico’s citizens, without regard to position, wealth or personal relationships. Adequate enforcement mechanisms are needed now more than ever to ensure that the laws and rules for public officials are enforced vigorously and impartially.
While no laws or rules are a substitute for good moral character or intention, the creation of clear, fair, ethical rules and standards provide critical guidance and will draw bright lines to create a common view of appropriate legislative conduct. No person, whether in or out of government, is the best judge of their own case. The creation of an independent entity to investigate allegations of violations of ethical standards of conduct will better insulate the process from political or partisan influences, as well as protecting the public interest.
- Rep. Jim Dines has introduced HJR 9 to create an Independent Ethics Commission in New Mexico, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it is germane for the session and should be scheduled for its first hearing this week. We will let you know as soon as we do so you can show your support by contacting members of the committee!
- Rep. Brian Egolf has also introduced HB 80 to create an Independent Ethics Commission, but since it is a bill, unless we get a message from Governor Martinez on ethics it won’t be germane. But if that changes, we will be there to support this as well.
And REDISTRICTING! Common Cause New Mexico supports HJR 1, sponsored by Rep. Carl Trujillo and Sen. Bill O’Neill to create an independent commission to conduct redistricting. This will establish written criteria for re-drawing district boundaries and require a fair and transparent process for conducting redistricting. The drawing of electoral districts is not transparent and all too often, there is no public participation. The resulting districts can often serve the political interests of the people who draw them, rather than the interests of the people being represented.
Sixty-eight percent (68%) of New Mexico voters, across demographic lines, support the creation of an Independent Redistricting Commission.
When voters feel that their input matters, they participate. Seeing incumbents win time and again because districts are rigged stifles competition and creates a sense of incumbent inevitability. This creates a disconnection between citizens and their elected officials. This combination of disenfranchisement and current low voter participation is toxic to our democracy. It permits big money campaign donors and special interests to dominate our government, which more than 64% of voters already agree has too much influence. Additionally, unfair districting has historically had a disproportionately negative impact on minority citizens across the state.
And finally, VOTING! Rep. Javier Martinez has introduced HJR 2 that will automatically register all qualified people in New Mexico to vote unless they opt out. Automatic voter registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state, as is done in many developed democracies around the world. Automatic voter registration ensures that all eligible persons can vote unless they opt-out of being put on the rolls (which all voters have the opportunity to do). It makes registration more efficient for voters and election administrators, and voter lists more accurate.
The potential impacts are enormous. Oregon alone, for example, estimates that 300,000 voters will be added to the registration rolls at once when the reform is implemented.
So those are the BIG three this year for now – that could change in an instant if any of the below bills become germane (plus whatever was introduced today!):
- HB 80; State Ethics Commission Act; Rep. Brian Egolf
- HB 96; No Pension for Convicted Public Officials; Rep. Matthew McQueen
- HB 105; Electronic Campaign Reporting; Rep. James E. Smith
- HB 124; Gubernatorial Inauguration Contributions; Rep. Gail Chasey
- HB 135; Lobbyist Employers & Reporting; Rep. Jeff Steinborn
- HB 136; Additional Lobbying Activity Reporting; Rep. Jeff Steinborn
- HB 137; Lobbying Expenditure Reporting; Rep. Jeff Steinborn
- HB 138; Voting for Some 17 year olds; Rep. Jeff Steinborn
- HB 143; Change Dates for Certain Elections; Rep. Paul C. Bandy
- HB 155; Public Corruption Act; Rep. Matthew McQueen
- HB 173; Web-Based Capital Outlay Publication; Rep. Brian Egolf
- SB 2; Automatic Driver’s License Voter Registration; Sen. Michael S. Sanchez
- SB 11; Campaign Finance Reporting Requirements; Sen. Peter Wirth and Rep. James Smith
- SB 12; Changes to Public Financing of Campaigns; Sen. Peter Wirth
- SB 41; Create State Inspector General Office; Sen. Michael Padilla
- SB 48; Web-Based Capital Outlay Publication; Sen. Sander Rue
Tomorrow we will recap what has happened thus far, so check back in regularly as we will update as often as we have new info, and future posts will be much less wordy!