Transparency wins major victories

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By Special to the Monitor

A brief but open conference committee capped off the 30-day legislative session in which transparency advocates won major victories.  

“The conference committee was short and relatively uneventful, but it still felt pretty momentous to me,” New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh said in a news release. “I thought of Bob Johnson and wished he could have been there.”

Johnson was the longtime executive director of NM-FOG, and he passed away in 2007. He fought for roughly a decade to open conference committees to the public.

These ad hoc committees hammer out differences between House and Senate versions of bills, and they often deal with the most contentious of legislative issues. A bill to open conference committees to the public finally passed in 2009, with help from then-NM-FOG director Leonard DeLayo. The first-ever open conference committee was held in the closing hours of that 2009 session.

On Thursday, a conference committee on SB 28, a bill to mandate disclosure of political contributions from state contractors, was called together just one hour before the session’s end. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, announced from the floor that all conference-committee meeting notices would be posted on his office door.

New Mexico open-meetings law states that the public shall be given “reasonable” advance notice of a conference committee. That could mean 10 minutes, four hours or 24 hours, depending on the circumstances, Welsh said.

She said she expects the legislature will eventually settle on a standard set of notification procedures.

In the days before Thursday’s open conference committee, a string of transparency measures passed the legislature by unanimous or near-unanimous margins this session.

Lawmakers adopted expanded webcasting rules, creation of an online Sunshine Portal for state-government information and legal protections for whistleblowers in state government.

A complete summary of open-government news from the Roundhouse will be available Saturday at  www.nmfog.org.