SANTA FE — The Legislative Council Service has denied a Journal request to look at the security video from a meeting in the Capitol at which House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton angrily confronted another lawmaker.
The council service — the Legislature’s administrative and bill-drafting arm — says Capitol security videos are not public records and therefore not covered by the Inspection of Public Records Act.
According to Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, Stapleton verbally assailed her during a break in a Legislative Education Study Committee meeting on Dec. 14, accusing Espinoza of publicly questioning her integrity.
Stapleton, an Albuquerque Democrat, acknowledges having referred to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez as “the Mexican on the Fourth Floor” during the incident. She publicly apologized for the comment a day later.
There is a surveillance camera in the room, but it doesn’t have an audio component.
The LESC made an audio recording of the meeting, but a copy provided to the Journal indicated the microphone was turned off at the beginning of the lunch break, and Stapleton’s comments weren’t recorded.
Legislative Council Service Director Raul Burciaga, in his written reply this week to an Inspection of Public Records Act request, said, “I believe that the security videos of the state Capitol are not public records.” He said he would provide a written explanation by the end of the month.
Burciaga said Friday in an interview that the Capitol surveillance videos “really don’t relate to public business.”
“There’s no policy being set. … There’s no context to them,” particularly because of the lack of audio, Burciaga said.
He said a policy manual specifies that the surveillance cameras are for safety, security and law enforcement purposes, and it has been the Legislative Council Service’s long-standing practice not to release security videos.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh disputed Burciaga’s interpretation of what IPRA requires.
The part of the law that defines public records as materials that “relate to public business” is intended to be extremely broad, she said.
“Everything that is produced in the course of government business is assumed to relate to public business,” Welsh said.
“A record that’s created by the government in the course of ordinary business is presumed to be public,” unless the law provides otherwise, she said.
Schools release surveillance tapes, as do jails, Welsh said.
Neither Burciaga nor Welsh was familiar with any previous IPRA requests for Capitol surveillance tapes.
In 2000, a brief hallway scuffle in the Capitol between then-House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, led to the release of a surveillance tape that was inconclusive as to who started the altercation.
Burciaga said the tape was released after requests from both lawmakers.
Burciaga said he advised Stapleton and Espinoza of his response to the IPRA request.
“Neither of them felt I should release the tape,” he said.
Espinoza told the Journal she saw no reason to ask for the tape’s release, since the committee room was jammed and there is no dispute about what happened.
“There’s no need to, when you already have so many witnesses that saw what took place,” Espinoza said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal