SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez’s office says it has clarified its policy on dealing with legislative agencies, backing off a directive that would have required all requests for information to be sent to the governor’s chief of staff.
However, a Martinez spokesman told the Journal the new policy will still require all requests from legislative watchdog agencies to be made in writing and to go through the governor’s Cabinet secretaries or agency heads.
“They need to be in the loop, particularly given the significant increase in the number of requests in recent years, the increasingly campaign-oriented nature of some of the requests and the amount of staff time it’s taking to process them,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said Friday.
The new policy largely affects two legislative watchdog agencies: the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, whose members and staff frequently contact state agencies for data and documents.
Until recently, the legislative agencies had frequently made information requests via phone calls and had not been required to file written requests.
Legislative leaders of both main political parties had expressed concern that requiring all data requests to be approved by the governor’s chief of staff, Keith Gardner, would hamper the flow of information.
House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, the LESC’s vice chairman, said he still has problems with the Martinez administration’s approach.
“It’s about time the executive branch understands we’re an equal branch of government,” Miera said. “I’m glad they’ve seen the wrong in what they’ve done, but they still went down that road.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said he thinks the revised policy seems workable.
“This will work out,” said Larrañaga, an LFC member who ran the state highway department in the 1980s. “I think everybody wants transparency.”
State law stipulates that state agencies must turn over any nonconfidential documents or materials requested by certain legislative agencies.
The Governor’s Office says executive branch departments will continue to comply with that law, which is a separate law from the one that allows members of the public to inspect government records. The revised policy will provide a better “structure” for that process, Knell added.
“It’s not our intention that these requests be funneled through one person in the Governor’s Office,” he said. “We recognize that’s inefficient and our agency leaders are the most appropriate individuals to manage the workload created by these requests in each department.”
Some state agencies spend large amounts of time handling legislative requests for information.
For instance, employees at the Public Education Department, which has launched a series of controversial initiatives, spent more than 2,500 hours last year responding to 721 requests, according to the PED.
The legislative watchdog agencies have used information provided by executive agencies to compile reports on hot-button issues, such as a 2013 report that found Medicaid pays for about seven in 10 of all births in New Mexico.