Thursday, February 24, 2005
State Economic Development Dept. Staffers Told To Steer Clear of Capitol
By Diane Velasco
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE State Economic Development Department staffers have been told they can't visit the Roundhouse during the legislative session, even on their own time, without first getting permission.
Violators will receive a reprimand, the department said.
Frank Marquez, head of the Administrative Services Division, issued the directive Feb. 4. In a copy obtained by the Journal, Marquez wrote:
"Please be advised that EDD staff must request approval from me before going to the Roundhouse. Staff is not allowed to visit the Roundhouse during their lunch hour or at any other time during the legislative session unless prior approval is requested and approved."
Secretary Rick Homans said the intent of the directive was to "make sure we don't start getting our wires crossed. We don't think legislators like it when they see a lot of state employees hanging around the Roundhouse."
He also said the governor's office "has been very clear about us being very disciplined in how we communicate with the Legislature."
But Billy Sparks, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, said he was unaware of any other department restricting staff from visiting the Roundhouse.
"That definitely wasn't an order from the governor's office," Sparks said.
The Secretary of State requires the executive branch to submit a list of state employees who will be involved in lobbying for or against legislation, Sparks said.
"The governor's office has never adopted additional restrictions or other measures against anybody contacting their own legislators in the normal process," he said.
Homans said the idea is to make sure employees are not expressing opinions about specific legislation, he added.
"The intent is we don't want employees doing freelance work in the Roundhouse concerning bills the administration has proposed or other bills that the administration may not be supporting," he explained.
A follow-up memo issued by Homans on Tuesday "to clarify" the directive said it was to make sure employees didn't violate state lobbying laws.
"Any department employee who goes to the Roundhouse in an unofficial manner and either speaks to legislators and supports/opposes department-related bills or even sits in a committee room where department-related bills are being heard runs the risk of being singled out and being asked for their opinion and therefore being in violation of state law," Homans wrote.
"We do however encourage employees to participate in public events such as dances, and various celebrations held there or to speak their mind on legislation that is not in any way related to our department," the memo said in conclusion.
The department directive may be unconstitutional, said Bob Johnson, executive director of the Foundation for Open Government.
"I think they have a constitutional problem if they tell people they cannot observe the Legislature," Johnson said. "State employees have the same rights as anybody else."