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Deleted words in policy bill cause stir

SANTA FE – A proposed three-word deletion in a bill aimed at bringing more consistency to how New Mexico state agencies make rules is causing concern among nonprofit groups.

In its current form, House Bill 58 would delete “statement of policy” from the definition of an agency rule, a move that some groups fear could create a loophole that would allow new policies affecting the public to be enacted without public hearings or public comment.

Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the group believes the public should be able to weigh in on any such changes.

And Sovereign Hager, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said the shift in wording could lead to less transparency.

“We think that’s a pretty serious change that diminishes transparency requirements,” she said. “It basically allows the state agency to decide whether something needs to be a rule or not.”

Although state agencies must abide by state law, they often use the rule-making process to implement laws and enact other policy changes.

Examples of recent proposed agency rules include a work requirement for food stamp recipients and a list of allowable proof-of-residence documents for a driver’s license.

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Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday that she’s working with the concerned groups and plans to propose an amendment next week that would address their concerns.

She said that the bill is intended to be “open-government” legislation and that the wording in question is aimed at agency policies for employees, which could include dress codes or parking guidelines.

“These internal policies are not what rules are intended to be for,” Trujillo said.

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