Infrastructure spending reform bill moves to Senate floor with little time to lose

A measure intended to reform infrastructure spending is headed to the Senate floor after Senate Finance Committee approval Tuesday. But there is limited time to get the measure through the full Legislature to the governor’s desk by the end of the 2017 session at noon on Saturday. An amendment to Senate Bill 262 removes references to a July 1 deadline for state agencies, lawmakers and others to submit projects for consideration. That would take away some of the teeth in what was originally aimed at ending a legislative pork-barrel process. It’s also unclear if the committee would actually rank projects by order of importance, although the amendment includes language prioritizing projects that “fill critical health and safety needs; create jobs” and more.

Ethics watchdog says bill before the Senate lacks teeth

State lawmakers would have too much power to decide who sits on an independent ethics commission under a proposal now being considered by the state Senate, a watchdog organization said Tuesday. New Mexico Ethics Watch, which leveled the criticism, disliked that the would-be commission in the proposal would not have sole authority to investigate and prosecute ethics complaints. “While it is important that the state have an Ethics Commission, it is more important that an Ethics Commission be properly constituted and protected from future meddling,” Ethics Watch Executive Director Douglas Carver said in a press release. “The version of the constitutional amendment creating an Ethics Commission that is before the Senate now is significantly flawed.”

New Mexico Ethics Watch, founded last year, is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life in New Mexico. Prior to Ethics Watch, Carver worked for five years as a staff attorney for the New Mexico Legislative Council Service, which included working with the Legislative Ethics Committee.

Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

It’s now up to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez whether New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure laws will be modernized. The Senate agreed to House amendments to Senate Bills 96 and 97 Tuesday. The House approved the two measures Monday night. SB 96 has the greater impact, aiming for more disclosure from independent spending groups during campaigns. But it also doubles the donation limits for legislators to $5,000 for each primary and general election cycle.

Fixes to NM Campaign Reporting Act near the finish line

The House approved two bills to bring New Mexico’s campaign finance laws up to date Monday night, clearing a years-long hurdle. While Senate Bill 96 clarifies state disclosure law when it comes to independent spending in campaigns, it also doubles contribution limits for lawmakers. It’s likely the Senate will concur with House amendments. The next question is whether Gov. Susana Martinez will sign the measures into law. “It’s a big night,” said Senate Majority Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Senate committee throws late session ethics commission monkey wrench

Late last week a proposal to create an independent ethics commission seemed perched nearer than ever to success in the New Mexico Legislature. The New Mexico House of Representatives had voted unanimously to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque and several Democratic lawmakers. It had received one committee assignment in the state Senate — admittedly the Senate Rules Committee. Chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, that committee has gained a reputation as the place where ethics legislation goes to die. Still, with just one committee hearing standing in front of a full Senate vote, a few longtime observers began to wonder if 2017 might be the year of the independent ethics commission after more than a decade of failed proposals.

NM Auditor: Conflict of interest found in Corrections Dept. Audit

A former deputy cabinet secretary at the New Mexico Corrections Department was put in charge of the financial relationship between the department and a television production company for which she had worked only months before, according to a new report from the state Auditor’s Office. It appears that Alex Sanchez waived at least $20,000 in fees owed by Lucky 8 TV, LLC, to the Corrections Department in June 2016 after having left  the company’s employ just three months earlier, the report shows. The state Auditor’s evidence for that claim is an email Sanchez sent employees of the company in which she noted the waived fees for the filming of Lucky 8’s prison reality series, “Behind Bars: Rookie Year.”

The Corrections Department could not provide any evidence or documentation that anyone other than Sanchez determined the amounts to be billed to the production company. Additionally, Lucky 8 was allowed to begin filming a third season of its show last year even though the company still owed the state $42,000 from the previous two seasons, the audit found. The arrangement amounted to a conflict of interest in which “not all of the decisions appear to be in the best interest of the state,” the auditors said.

Throwing Away the Key: New Mexico’s ‘30-year lifers’ 
denied a fair shot at parole

Since 1985, O.C. Fero has lined his shelf with achievements. The former high school principal was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch. He has tutored young men on their way to GEDs and earned three master’s degrees himself, all in religious studies. And in 1992, Fero, who is now 75, married Carole Royal, with whom he shares an abiding love of scripture, reading and far-ranging spiritual thought. Attending the small ceremony in Los Lunas were the couple’s adult children from previous marriages.

House and Senate trade ethics and transparency measures

With 12 days left in the 60-day session the New Mexico Legislature might or might not be heading toward a repeat of last year. It’s difficult to tell. Last year, in the final days of the 2016 session, the House of Representatives approved by a 50-10 vote, and with great fanfare, an independent ethics commission proposal. It would have asked voters to enshrine the commission in the state constitution. It died in the state Senate.