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NM Senate rejects transparency amendment

Fencing went up around the Roundhouse last week, a precautionary measure given reports of possibly violent protests at state capitols around the country. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — The state Senate wrapped up its first full day of the 2021 session with intense debate over how to maintain transparency as committee hearings move largely online.

It could be a preview of a key struggle the rest of the session — making sure the public has adequate notice and can participate even with the Capitol building closed to the public.

The debate centered on a new Senate rule for online committee meetings, requiring the posting of agendas at least 24 hours in advance but with an exception in the final two weeks of the session, when the rule is simply “as soon as practicable.”

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, pushed unsuccessfully to impose 12 hours’ notice requirement in the final two weeks. Without the proposed change, he said, the language was vague enough to allow a committee chairperson to post an agenda and hold an online meeting five minutes later, making it almost impossible for the public to participate.

“This is a huge concern,” Pirtle said.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, described Pirtle’s amendment as a reasonable requirement.

“I just want to make sure we err on the side of transparency,” Moores said.

But the proposed amendment failed 15-26, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in support.

Democrats argued that committee leaders need flexibility in the final weeks of the session, when the House and Senate send bills back and forth, triggering the scheduling of committees on short notice.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the proposed notice requirement is a good goal. But the suggested amendment is merely aspirational, he said, if it lacks a specific penalty for violations.

Without a consequence, he said, “I’m not sure whether this is more than just a good intention.”

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