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Editorial: Lawmakers: Don’t Mix Email Business, Pleasure

Republican and Democratic leaders of the New Mexico Legislature maintain they don’t have to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act — at least when it comes to conducting state business on their personal email addresses. Why? Because legislators are different. Way to work across the aisle for a change.

This rare bipartisan agreement came in response to an IPRA request from the state Republican Party for emails “concerning public business” of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who lists his personal email address as his official contact point on the Legislature website.

Never mind that lawmakers are entrusted with doing the public’s business, or that according to Attorney General Gary King’s compliance guide, public records means all documents “regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.”

There is some legal debate over whether an individual elected official such as a legislator meets the “by or on behalf of a public body” requirement. But the spirit of the law would seem to suggest no good reason for a distinction.

The GOP request to lawmakers followed the disclosure that members of the Gov. Susana Martinez administration had been using personal emails to conduct public business, on the argument that the particular communications involved were not public records. It was a bad practice, and the governor has ordered it stopped.

Confronted with the same question, legislators went the other way.

Last week Sanchez and House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, rejected the GOP request with a letter stating lawmakers’ emails should be treated differently from administration or state employees’ emails when considered for public scrutiny.

The lawmakers’ letter says they use personal email accounts “to ensure that governmental accounts are not inadvertently used for nongovernmental purposes and for the convenience of legislators who are not in a traditional physical office.” Taylor adds that the rejection of the request from his fellow Republicans is not about politics but about protecting legislators who use a single email address on their personal computer to juggle personal business, family life and legislative work. He also points out that the Legislature does not have a policy on personal email accounts, so “It’s really difficult to try and go back and figure out if there was a violation” of email usage.

While there are a number of exceptions to the law spelling out what kinds of records do not have to be disclosed, there is no exclusion for “it would be really hard.”

That lack of a Legislature email policy should be quickly rectified, especially considering taxpayers already provide legislators with their very own email address.

It’s 2012. Plenty of New Mexicans juggle personal and business cell phones, voice-mail and email accounts. Their lawmakers should do the same and keep the public’s business public.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.