Bills would make government more transparent

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

The public would have better access to and could gain more understanding of the state government under several bills making progress this session.

Certain committees that are now closed would be open while government documents would become public sooner under the measures originating in the House.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee today is expected to consider a measure that would open conference committees to the public. They are some of the last meetings legally closed to the public — and to lawmakers who are not members of the committees.

Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, is carrying the bill, HB 393.

“For me to do a good job as a legislator, I need to be able to participate in the full process. It’s very difficult for me to represent my district well when I can’t attend the budget meetings from beginning to end or when I’m excluded from certain parts of the budgetary process,” he said. The meetings are to hammer out differences in the similar legislation passed by both chambers, such as the budget.

Supporters for at least 10 years have pushed for the measure.

A bill that would make it clear that e-mail requests should be acknowledged as official requests under the state Inspection of Public Records Act was approved Tuesday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The measure comes after a few state agencies in past years have refused to recognize an e-mail as a written request under the law.

“I respond to e-mails all day long and it seems to me they are all in writing,” said Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, who presented the bill in the committee. That bill (HB 598) now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

A separate measure (HB 600) also sponsored by Cervantes would criminalize the act of not producing public records as required under the law.

Under the measure, a person who “knowingly and willfully withholds public records subject to inspection is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $500 for each offense.”

Cervantes said the proposal aims to send a serious message about denying records requests.