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Ethics commission gets OK from House panel, but faces long road ahead

SANTA FE, N.M. — In the wake two recent New Mexico scandals involving public officials, a renewed proposal to create a state ethics commission cleared its first legislative hurdle today on an 8-0 vote.

Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 5, one of three different ethics commission proposals pending in the Legislature, said he believes lawmakers are warming up to the idea after years of resistance.

“My goal is to have the public embrace this,” Dines said in an interview, while also predicting the proposed constitutional amendment would pass “overwhelmingly” if placed before state voters this fall.

However, while there were no “no” votes against the proposal in today’s meeting of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, several lawmakers voiced concern about ethics complaints being made public.

Currently, formal complaints against New Mexico elected officials in a confidential and closed-door process.

“What I don’t want to happen is the ethics commission being used as a political ploy,” said Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen.

Under Dines’ proposal, which is backed by government transparency advocates, the ethics commission would consist of nine members. The members would be appointed by different legislative, judicial and state officials.

The commission would investigate alleged violations of state ethics, campaign finance and procurement laws and hold public hearings to resolve complaints.

HJR 5 now moves on to the House Judiciary Committee.