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Editorial: ’20 Legislature can chalk up 3 wins for gov’t transparency

Imagine if someone paid a large sum out of your bank account, and when you asked what the payment was for you were told it was confidential, mind your beeswax, and to check back in six months.

For years that’s what the state of New Mexico has been doing with your tax dollars when it comes to paying out settlements for lawsuits and tort claims against the state and its employees. And that’s what the state of New Mexico will no longer do thanks to a unanimous Senate (38-0) and a unanimous House (70-0).

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, spearheaded Senate Bill 64, which “removes the 180-day delay in releasing public records concerning claims against governmental entities and it replaces it with the right to inspected records more immediately.” The bill is headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose administration has championed releasing such information.

Meanwhile, a small portion of the Senate suffered a black eye earlier this month when KRQE News 13 reporter Rachel Knapp was kicked out of a Senate Conservation Committee meeting because she hadn’t sought permission to film.

So it’s only fair to give credit to lawmakers who moved swiftly to change the rule that allowed for Knapp’s ejection.

In review, acting chairwoman Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, first asked Knapp if she had permission from the chair, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who was presenting a bill. Knapp said she did not. “I’m a reporter,” she said. “I just figured it was a public meeting.” Sedillo Lopez then said Knapp would need to pack up her camera gear and leave.

Knapp was correct. It was a public meeting and in fact was being streamed by the Legislature. But there also was a rule, occasionally enforced, requiring reporters or members of the public to first get permission from committee chairs to film or record.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, moved quickly, introducing a resolution to replace SR2, eliminating the requirement. His proposal was approved on a unanimous 40-0 vote (two members were excused) by the full Senate on Saturday. “Modern democracy requires our complete transparency in all forms and encouragement of media and citizen involvement,” he said “I congratulate my Senate colleagues for passing SR2 to allow the media and public full access to film and document the Legislature in action.”

All New Mexicans should congratulate them as well – particularly Steinborn who as a state representative pushed rules creating webcasting of committee meetings and a requirement they be archived for five years.

On another positive note, their House colleagues deserve congratulations for unanimously passing HR1, 63-0, which publicizes committee votes to table legislation. While it’s unfortunate the new House rule exempts the Appropriations and Finance and the Taxation and Revenue committees, it is a strong step toward putting the people’s business in the light. The Senate should follow suit.

Transparency is a popular buzzword. These are concrete steps that move it from vocabulary to reality.

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.