Group hopeful of ethics board

SANTA FE – New Mexico remains one of eight states without an independent ethics commission, and attempts to create one have failed repeatedly in the state Senate.

But a bipartisan group is optimistic this year, after a change in Senate leadership and a new Senate sponsor for some of the bills.

Supporters of new ethics legislation, meanwhile, had a bit more reason for optimism Thursday: The House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee endorsed a raft of proposals aimed at promoting ethical conduct.

“I think this is the year that we do this,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “It’s time.”

Steinborn, a former member of the state House who won election to the Senate last year, is a co-sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would create an independent ethics commission empowered to investigate misconduct by state lawmakers, executives under the governor and others.

Also signing on as sponsors of the measure, House Joint Resolution 8, are Reps. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque; Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces; and Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park.

If approved by the state House and Senate, the constitutional amendment would go before voters in 2018.

It was approved via a 8-1 vote Thursday but still needs review by the House local government and judiciary committees before going to the House floor.

The House State Government Committee on Thursday also endorsed:

• A bill that would prohibit former lawmakers from serving as paid lobbyists within two years of leaving the Legislature. There is no “cooling off” period required in New Mexico now, though 32 other states have such laws.

Two years ago, 26 former lawmakers were registered as lobbyists, according to Common Cause New Mexico, an advocacy group supporting the proposal.

The bill, House Bill 73, is sponsored by Dines, Small and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces. It was endorsed on a unanimous vote and now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

“This is something that needs to be done,” said Viki Harrison of Common Cause New Mexico. “You are not here to get an education to get a job when you leave.”

• A proposal to create a state Public Accountability Board that would enforce campaign-finance reporting regulations, state sunshine laws and other ethical rules. The measure, House Bill 10, faced criticism because it would do much of its work in secret, unless there’s a formal finding of misconduct in response to a complaint.

The constitutional amendment for an ethics commission, by contrast, would make complaints and the response to them public at the same time.

The accountability board proposal, in any case, now heads to House Judiciary, after being approved Thursday on a 6-3 vote. It’s sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales.