Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A New Mexico open government group is urging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill updating the state’s collective bargaining laws, saying a provision in the 35-page bill would allow public employees’ hire dates, salaries and other information to be kept secret.
But both the Governor’s Office and a labor attorney closely involved in crafting the bill say they don’t believe that’s the case, describing the provision as limited in scope to information provided by public employers to labor unions.
“In other words, the fact that the information is included in the confidential disclosure to the union does not categorically exempt that same information from disclosure by other means under (the state’s open records laws),” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said.
However, the Foundation for Open Government maintains that if the bill were to be signed into law as written it could deprive New Mexicans of access to public information about how their tax dollars are being spent.
“The public has a right to know who is working on their behalf, where the employee is working and their salary,” FOG’s Executive Director Melanie Majors and President Susan Boe wrote Monday in a letter to the governor.
The dispute comes as the Democratic governor is considering whether to sign the bill, which passed both the House and Senate during the final days of this year’s 30-day legislative session.
The legislation, House Bill 364, is aimed at revising New Mexico’s 2003 Public Employees Bargaining Act by eliminating some of the state’s 50 or so local labor boards, among other changes.
One of those other changes calls for public employers to provide certain information about their employees to union officials in any work site covered by a collective bargaining agreement. That information includes an employee’s name, telephone number, address, job title and salary level.
The same section of the bill also stipulates that public employers should not disclose the information to a third party, “notwithstanding any provision contained in the Inspection of Public Records Act.”
Shane Youtz, an attorney for the New Mexico Federation of Labor who worked on the bill, said that specific language is not aimed at exempting public workers’ names and salaries from the open records law.
“We didn’t want to create a new statutory right for third parties to get this information,” Youtz told the Journal.
“We weren’t trying to sneak anything in,” he added.
That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, one of the bill’s sponsors, who said there was no attempt to hide information from the public.
But Kip Purcell, an Albuquerque attorney and member of FOG’s legal panel, said the bill’s language could lead to that happening, even if it was not the bill supporters’ intent.
“I’m very concerned that what the language intends to do and what it in fact does is the opposite” of what the bill’s backers claim, Purcell said.
Under New Mexico’s open records law, public employees’ job titles, hire dates and salaries are all considered to be public records, meaning anyone can have access to the information upon request.
Most of that information is also posted on the state’s Sunshine Portal – a state-run online database – though the names of rank-and-file employees are not listed, per a 2013 court ruling.
Meanwhile, this year’s bill advanced under the “dummy bill” process, in which a generic bill is revised and brought forward after the bill filing deadline, and drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers for being fast-tracked without enough time for ample scrutiny.
Lujan Grisham has until March 11 to act on the bill, and more than 70 other pieces of legislation approved by lawmakers during this year’s session.