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Lobbyist disclosure bill clears first committee

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Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, talks with people on the Senate Floor earlier this session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A proposal to require lobbyists to disclose what bills they’ve worked on survived its first committee hearing Monday as New Mexico lawmakers wrestled with how much transparency to impose on a critical part of the legislative process.

House Bill 131 would require lobbyists or their employers, after the session ends, to list each piece of legislation they lobbied on and whether they supported, opposed or took another position on the measure.

New Mexicans “want to pull back the curtain so they can see what’s going on in government,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat and co-sponsor of the proposal.

But members of the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee expressed reservations about what’s reasonable to require of lobbyists.

In an amendment, they pushed back the proposed reporting requirement – from one week after the session concludes to two weeks.

And some members said they want to scrutinize the bill further, especially the definitions of “lobbying.” They didn’t make any immediate changes to the proposal but said they may propose amendments before the measure is considered for final passage.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, raised the question of whether an offhand, informal remark by a lobbyist to a legislator would trigger the reporting requirement. What if the lobbyist, he asked, is speaking as a constituent or a friend rather than on behalf of an employer?

“I don’t want to cost people their job or a fine because they made some remark,” Nibert said.

Other members suggested requiring that only “substantial” lobbying be reported.

Steinborn said the definition of “lobbying” is already well-covered in state law. Generally speaking, it involves being paid to influence legislation, officials said.

“You know when you’re doing it and when you’re not,” Steinborn said.

The proposal passed 4-2 along party lines, with Democrats in favor, and now heads to the Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the House floor.

House Bill 131 is jointly sponsored Steinborn and Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Thomson and Dayan Hochman-Vigil, both of Albuquerque.

Earlier this session, lawmakers passed a bill that will require lobbyists to start reporting their cumulative spending on individual meals or other items that cost less than $100 each. Amounts over that are already reported.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the measure into law.


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