Ethics commission heads to Senate, aka cemetery for ethics reform

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Image by Louie Va

Image by Louie Va

To quote the recently departed oracle — Yogi Berra — is it déjà vu all over again?

A proposal that would ask voters to vote up or down an independent ethics commission cleared the House of Representatives on a 50-10 vote Tuesday night.

It now heads to the New Mexico State Senate, known as the cemetery for ethics reform.

Since a state task force first recommended the creation of an independent ethics commission in 2006, the New Mexico House has passed ethics committee legislation four times only to watch each proposal die in the Senate.

Will the Senate go for a five-peat in 2016?

It’s likely.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, whose own ethics commission legislation hasn’t budged on the Senate side, predicted Tuesday evening that House Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque, won’t receive a warm welcome in the 42-member Senate.

“I don’t feel an energy from either side, Democrats or Republicans,” for creating an independent ethics commission, Lopez said.

Lopez introduced her ethics commission bill Jan. 21 but as of Tuesday evening it had not received a single committee hearing.

New Mexico carries the dubious distinction as one of only eight states without an ethics commission. But some thought the 2016 legislative session offered a good opportunity for ethics reform.

In March 2015, New Mexicans watched a powerful state senator–Phil Griego–resign in the middle of the legislative session for allegedly using his elective office for personal gain. Five months later, the state’s Attorney General accused then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran of violating the very laws she was tasked with enforcing.

Duran pleaded guilty to six criminal counts, including two felony counts of embezzlement, in October and later spent 30 days in jail.

Meanwhile, roughly 85 percent of New Mexicans polled by Research & Polling, Inc. for Common Cause New Mexico in late December and early January supported the creation of an independent ethics commission. A separate poll of New Mexico’s business leaders found 82 percent of them supported the idea.

On Tuesday, Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, Democrat of Belen, said he had no idea what would happen given the short time left in the session, which ends Feb. 18.

“I don’t know what people are going to do, I don’t know what chairmen will do, I don’t know what committees will do,” said Sanchez, who controls the legislation that comes up for a vote on the Senate floor.

“We’ve never … asked our members” what they think of the idea of an independent ethics commission, Sanchez said of his fellow Democratic Senators on Tuesday.

Will he ask them during the last nine days of this session?

“I might,” he said, smiling.

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