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Pension fund seeks public record exclusions

SANTA FE – A New Mexico pension fund for retired educators wants to create new exemptions in the state’s open meetings and public records laws in an attempt to guard against cyberthreats.

Draft legislation that could be considered during the coming 30-day session was endorsed Monday by an interim legislative committee, and comes amid rising national concern about computer hacking, data breaches and other types of cyberthreats.

Rod Ventura, the Educational Retirement Board’s general counsel, said the proposed legislation would allow the pension fund – and other state agencies – to withhold “confidential electronic network security” information from requests made under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

He told lawmakers there are already exemptions in the law for sensitive law enforcement records.

“There actually is some precedence for closing things down, but that’s for terrorist activities,” Ventura told members of the Investments and Pension Oversight Committee during a Monday hearing at the state Capitol.

Specifically, the draft legislation discussed Monday would allow agencies to withhold records including passwords, network security evaluations and cyberthreat response plans.

In addition, the proposal would also allow state agencies and other bodies to discuss computer security efforts behind closed doors. That’s not currently allowable under the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The Educational Retirement Board covers more than 59,000 active teachers, professors and other school workers, and roughly 46,000 retirees.

Pension fund officials said Monday that they’re concerned that hackers could attempt to access sensitive information via the state’s public records laws, perhaps putting the pension benefits of retirees at risk.

However, several lawmakers, including Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, questioned whether a focus on staffing roles – and internal access to classified information – might be a better approach to the issue.

To be approved during the 30-day legislative session that starts in January, the legislation would have to be added to the session’s agenda by Gov. Susana Martinez. That’s because 30-day sessions, held in even-numbered years, are typically limited to budgetary matters and other issues deemed by the governor to be urgent, unlike 60-day sessions, held in odd-numbered years.

ERB officials said Monday that they have had discussions about the bill with both the Governor’s Office and staffers for Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office enforces the state’s Open Meetings Act.

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