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Public Corruption Bill Is Signed Into Law

Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law Monday legislation that could require public officials convicted of corruption-related crimes to repay their salaries and forfeit their accrued state pension benefits.

The new law, which was passed without any no votes in the Senate or the House, will take effect May 16.

“Corrupt public officials should not be allowed the benefit of their taxpayer-funded salaries and pensions,” Martinez said in a statement. “This measure sends a strong statement that corruption in New Mexico will not stand.”

Specifically, the legislation will allow a judge in criminal court to fine elected officials — or those appointed to an elected seat — an amount up to their total salary and pension benefits if they are convicted of felony corruption charges.

Martinez signed the bill into law Monday at the Metropolitan Court in Downtown Albuquerque with several lawmakers looking on.

Senate GOP Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque, the measure’s sponsor, touted the bipartisan collaboration of lawmakers in passing the legislation.

“I appreciate the support of Republicans and Democrats alike in passing this important legislation, which will hold public officials accountable when they steal from taxpayers,” Payne said in a statement.

Several previous attempts at enacting tougher corruption laws had failed at the state Capitol.

However, this year’s attempt appeared to gain steam after the latest in a series of scandals involving New Mexico elected officials — former Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr.’s felony conviction last year for fraudulent use of a state-issued credit card.

The legislation, Senate Bill 197, signed into law Monday will not apply retroactively to Block or other elected officials convicted of corruption charges.

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who carried the Senate bill in the House of Representatives, said recently that he thinks the measure will have a deterrent effect.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal