Watchdog group asks for online streaming of Senate committee - Albuquerque Journal

Watchdog group asks for online streaming of Senate committee

The Roundhouse in fall. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is calling on the state Senate to make it easier for the public to follow the work of a committee that helps determine which bills can be taken up during the 30-day session.

The Senate Committees’ Committee is the rare legislative panel that doesn’t broadcast its work online or publish daily agendas – a barrier, the foundation said, that keeps the public from scrutinizing its work.

“It is essential for transparency to webcast any and all legislative discussions and actions,” FOG Executive Director Shannon Kunkel said in a letter to legislative leaders. “Not to do so is unacceptable and duplicitous.”

In an interview, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she has taken steps to make the committee’s work more transparent but sees no reason to broadcast the meetings.

The Committees’ Committee used to meet in the Senate lounge, where public access is restricted, but Stewart moved the meetings this year to a regular committee room, allowing the public to attend in person.

The committee, she said, is a procedural panel that doesn’t act on or amend bills the way other committees do, and Senate rules don’t call for its work to be streamed online.

In 30-day sessions, the panel determines whether a bill falls into one of the legal categories allowing lawmakers to take it up during the session. Lawmakers can only take up budget and tax legislation, bills authorized by the governor, constitutional amendments and certain other proposals in the 30-day sessions held in even years.

“The public isn’t going to want to listen to this,” Stewart said. “It’s boring legal standards we’re talking about, and we’re not talking about them very much.”

The committee handles about 40 bills a day, she said, determining whether they’re “germane,” or fall within the legal purview of the session.

The Committees’ Committee also helps determine the membership of the Senate’s standing committees, including who serves as chair of each committee. As president pro tem of the Senate, Stewart is the chairwoman of the Committees’ Committee.

Kunkel said there’s no reason to avoid broadcasting the Committees’ Committee meetings.

She noted that a similar panel in the House, the Rules and Order of Business Committee, is streamed online.

“It is of grave concern to FOG that any public body would conduct the public’s business surreptitiously, but it is particularly egregious for the Committees’ Committee do so given that it is charged with the extremely important task of determining germaneness for the thirty-day session,” Kunkel said.

The panel, she said, should “act with the utmost transparency and allow for the greatest possible public participation.”

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