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Friday, March 13, 2009
Bill To Open Meetings Heads to Senate Floor
By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE Parliamentary maneuvering has advanced a bill to open up closed-door legislative conference committees.
After waiting more than a month for a hearing on her bill to let the public into the closed sessions, Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, took matters into her own hands Thursday and got the measure headed to the Senate floor where it will await a vote by all 42 senators.
Feldman used a substitute bill to circumvent the Senate Rules Committee, where her original bill had languished.
The new bill, Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 737 containing the same key elements as the bill pending in the rules committee was approved by a unanimous 7-0 vote Thursday by members of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, which Feldman chairs. The vote sent it to the Senate floor.
The new proposal mirrors House Bill 393, a measure sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, that members of the House of Representatives passed by a 66-0 vote on March 2. Cervantes' bill also is pending in the Senate Rules Committee.
Conference committees are called to negotiate differences on legislation between the Senate and the House. The meetings, which often deal with budget issues, are open to the public in most states.
“This is based on the idea that democracy ... depends on an informed public,” Feldman said. “The only way the public can be informed is if they know what's going on.”
Senate leaders both Democrat and Republican who are critical of the measure have said that opening up the conference committees would drive the Legislature's decision-making process underground.
Following Thursday's vote, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the Senate Rules Committee chairwoman, said she wasn't bothered by the “dummy bill” tactic and said she had planned to hear the bill in her committee before the session ends March 21.
“I intended to, but apparently Senator Feldman took another route,” Lopez said. “That's the way the system works.”