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Gov. Urges Media To Help Open Conference Committees

By Barry Massey/
Associated Press
      SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson today urged New Mexico news industry executives to launch an aggressive campaign to build support among lawmakers for requiring public meetings of legislative negotiating committees.
    Conference committees often negotiate the final versions of legislation, but they currently meet in sessions closed to the public.
    The committees are made up of House and Senate members, appointed by the leadership to develop a compromise when the chambers pass different versions of the same bill. Their decisions are disclosed when proposed compromise legislation is presented to the House and Senate for final approval.
    Richardson said he supported open conference committees and put the issue on the agenda of the Legislature's 30-day session.
    However, Richardson predicted the proposal will fail in the Legislature unless the news industry builds more public and legislative support for the measure.
    "You're not working hard on this,'' Richardson told industry executives at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the New Mexico Press Association. "And if you want it, this is uphill. You're going to have to mobilize and do some editorials.''
    The press association has a lobbyist for the legislative session, but Richardson said that alone isn't enough to get the open conference committee proposal through the House and Senate.
    "I think it's important, but unless you generate some support for your position with your legislator in your individual community, it's not going to happen. I can tell you that,'' Richardson said.
    Several lawmakers also attended the breakfast. House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said the proposed legislation will be considered but acknowledged he's "never been a big fan'' of requiring open meetings of conference committees.
    Other legislative committees are open to the public. State law permits closed meetings for certain exceptions, such as for matters involving litigation and personnel.
    About 40 states provide open legislative conference committees, according to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
    Past efforts to require open conference committees in New Mexico — either through a change in legislative rules or a change in state law — have failed. Opponents say closed-door meetings promote frank discussions that help in hammering out compromises.


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