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Editorial: Watch lawmakers do your business, on your schedule

More than a decade ago, then-Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, made the argument for webcasting legislative meetings by pointing out that in a large, and largely rural, state like New Mexico, it would allow “people throughout the state (to) watch what is happening in the House and in the Senate. It will make legislators more accountable to the people of New Mexico.”

It has taken 11 years since that original Legislature-appropriated, then-Gov. Bill Richardson-approved $75,000 for webcasts of legislative proceedings, but now the process has finally been expanded to include archiving those proceedings – not only so busy New Mexicans can watch them at their convenience, but also so there is a historical record of House and Senate hearings and sessions.

Much credit for making the webcasts a uniformly searchable reality goes to:

• Then-Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, who in 2009 was accused of “grandstanding” when she supplied and installed her own webcam in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee meeting room. She defended her self-described civil disobedience at the time, saying “my constituents have really been pushing for this. Sometimes you have to do what’s right for the citizens.” (The Senate bought Web cameras in 2008, but held off launching them until 2009, when it allowed one camera at the back of the chamber for live broadcasts. In 2013, it added live streaming of committee meetings, but expressly did not allow archiving.)

• Gov. Susanna Martinez, who in 2011 started the official webcasting process with one staffer recording and archiving what he/she could get to while enduring the glares of lawmakers who were convinced it was all for a game of political gotcha.

• In an unintended way, former state Sen. Phil Griego, whose litany of lies, misrepresentations and crony-driven deals in the Roundhouse were not only captured but kept on tape, showing the value of the system by ensuring that, in 2015, New Mexicans would know the real story behind the real estate scheme that forced him to resign his public office.

• Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who last year sponsored a successful resolution to archive House webcast footage.

• Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who in the first week of his first session as majority leader emulated Steinborn and moved to change Senate rules so webcasts of that chamber’s floor sessions and committee hearings also are archived on the Legislature’s website.

And, on Wednesday, the list of recorded committee and chamber meetings, complete with specific bills addressed, was accessible from the Legislature’s home page.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “more than half the states … archive and make available on the web floor proceedings, and about half archive some or all committee proceedings for varying lengths of time.”

Wirth’s motion passed unanimously and took effect immediately, giving New Mexicans access to webcasts from both of the state’s legislative chambers entrusted with doing the people’s business. It may have taken 11 years but, as Steinborn says, “this is going to be a huge step forward in the transparency of the Legislature.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.