Important House committee passes ethics legislation

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A House bill creating an independent ethics commission with subpoena power passed an important House committee Wednesday, sending the measure before the full House of Representatives for a vote possibly as early as later this week.  

Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved the measure unanimously after a short discussion and lowering funding for the proposed ethics commission to half a million dollars, from $1 million.

Committee chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup, explained the Legislature could add money to the commission midyear when state officials learn how much a full year of its operations would cost.

Lundstrom’s explanation was heartening to committee member Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, who had expressed a desire that the commission be fully funded.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

New Mexico state lawmakers are trying to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for the seven-member independent ethics commission after 75 percent of voters added the commission to the state constitution in November.

The supermajority of support followed more than a decade of legislative attempts to create such an oversight body as a dozen or so scandals sent several New Mexico public officlals to prison or jail.

“We’ve had a few bad apples, but most of the public servants in the state are good people,” Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said in support of the bill before trumpeting other proposed reforms, such as the state moving to a paid, professional legislature with year-round staff.  “Some of the scandals have stemmed from us being a citizen legislature,” he said to his colleagues.

Unlike lawmakers in states across the country, New Mexico state lawmakers do not receive a salary.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, encouraged everyone to read the ethics commission proposal sponsored by Rep. Damon Ely, D-Albuquerque.

“This will not solve every problem, but it will help,” Brown said.

It is unclear when the full House of Representatives will vote on the measure. After clearing that chamber the ethics commission proposal would move to the Senate with two and a half weeks left in the 60 day legislative session.

That chamber has earned a reputation as a killing ground for ethics legislation over the past decade.

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