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Let’s make sure the ethics commission is strong

Dear New Mexicans,

Congratulations! Take the time to feel good about your vote ratifying an amendment to our Constitution creating an independent state ethics commission – and now let’s work together to make the new commission as strong as possible!

Why, you ask, do we need a strong commission? Because, if we create a weak commission, where complaints and issues go to die, either because the commission is underfunded or politically driven, we may find ourselves worse off in terms of ethics compliance and enforcement than we have been. We don’t want any more scandals like those that have arisen under the old, fragmented system of ethics compliance and enforcement! We have an incredible opportunity to create a transparent, proactive, fair commission and processes that will serve all New Mexicans – let’s seize that opportunity!

We can all participate in the upcoming process of crafting and defining certain aspects of the commission and its powers and duties. New Mexico Ethics Watch (NMEW) will keep you apprised of legislation introduced during the session, called “enabling legislation,” that will add meat to the bones of the approved constitutional amendment. You can check our website, www.nmethicswatch.org, for timely updates on proposed legislation.

NMEW, along with fellow advocacy groups New Mexico First, the Foundation for Open Government, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, as well as journalist and private citizen participants, have been attending Ethics Commission Working Group meetings that are an outgrowth of the Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee.

Chaired by Senate Rules Committee Chair Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, the working group has been undertaking a heartening, open, participatory process in the quest for strong and fair enabling legislation governing the ethics commission. Drawing on the work of ethics experts, best practices across the country, long-term advocacy efforts, polling, focus group and research data, and legislative policy and drafting expertise, the state Ethics Commission Working Group has been committed to exploring and discussing all aspects of the commission’s enabling legislation. And Rep. Dines and Sen. Lopez are to be commended for creating an open, participatory and inclusive process.

As you might imagine, there are differing opinions about important aspects of the enabling legislation, be they concerning transparency and timing, confidentiality, qualifications of commissioners, jurisdiction of the commission, etc.

We expect (lawmakers will introduce various versions of the enabling legislation.)

It is likely that ethics commission enabling legislation will be assigned to multiple committees in each chamber. It is during this committee process that citizens have the greatest opportunity to participate in the legislative process. A citizen can write to or telephone committee members and chairs expressing opinions and offering suggestions. A citizen can attend committee meetings and seek to testify on the proposed legislation throughout the committee process in each chamber.

NMEW will keep you updated on where enabling legislation is in the committee and floor process throughout the session. We’ll also keep sources handy for you on our website to consult for education and contemplation on the ethics commission and enabling legislation.

Many legislators and former legislators, advocates, scholars and citizens worked incredibly hard to get New Mexico to this point, where we will have a constitutionally-mandated, independent state ethics commission.

Congratulations are in order! Let’s honor these efforts by continuing to observe and participate in the next essential process on this journey: the crafting of strong enabling legislation that will direct the efforts of a fair, transparent, efficient, well-funded, proactive ethics commission. We deserve the best!

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