Governor pushes public records legislation

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Gov. Susana Martinez delivers her State of the State address during a joint session of the House and Senate last month. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez has asked New Mexico lawmakers to adopt a bill this session making their communications subject to disclosure under the state’s public records law.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have shown little appetite for the idea in the past. In fact, both chambers of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a rule in 2013 aimed at keeping their documents and emails private.

But there’s been continued debate over whether lawmakers’ email messages should be available to the public, and some lawmakers believe they already are, despite the 2013 rule.

Nonetheless, Martinez is asking lawmakers to take action.

“The governor believes that all elected officials should be transparent and accountable to the public,” Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell said in a written statement.

The governor’s request came just a day before Wednesday’s deadline to introduce new legislation in this year’s 30-day session, which ends Feb. 15. The Martinez administration said it wasn’t aware of a specific bill on the topic.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the timing of the governor’s message makes it impractical to consider this session. He said his own emails have been released by legislative staffers in response to requests under the public records law, with some exceptions that apply to bill drafting.

In her message sent to lawmakers, Martinez authorized them to consider a bill “requiring that any communication sent by or to a legislator in the legislator’s capacity as a duly elected public official be subject to inspection in accordance with the Inspection of Public Records Act.”

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Martinez and the Legislature over transparency.

Debate over emails intensified in 2012, when members of the Martinez administration sent or received emails dealing with public business on private accounts. The governor subsequently ordered the executive branch to use the public email system for official business.

Then the state Republican Party requested emails related to public business from Democrat Michael Sanchez, then the Senate majority leader.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle rejected the request, arguing that lawmakers’ emails are different because members of the Legislature are citizen representatives who don’t draw salaries and must juggle their other work responsibilities in addition to state business.

Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the state public records law doesn’t specifically exempt legislators’ emails.

“In New Mexico,” St. Cyr said, “the public has a right to know what the government and elected officials are doing on their behalf.”

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