House Judiciary ethics changes set up potential for legislative showdown

With less than 48 hours left in the 60-day session, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday evening set up the potential for a legislative showdown over a new, independent ethics commission as time runs out on the 2019 session. It happened when House Judiciary members dramatically altered the Senate’s vision for the new commission, sending it to the full House for a vote. It was another strange turn in the long trip for ethics commission legislation during this year’s session as state lawmakers seek to honor New Mexicans’ wishes. Seventy five percent of voters in the November election approved amending the state constitution by adding an independent ethics commission with subpoena power following a series of scandals.  

That the fate of a new commission might be decided in a game of legislative chicken in the final 36 hours of this year’s session isn’t a surprise.

Important House committee passes ethics legislation

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.

Is it ‘Groundhog Day’ for ethics reform in NM?

This commentary is part of New Mexico In Depth’s weekly newsletter. Trip Jennings, NMID executive director

2019 is beginning to feel a lot like the 1990s Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”Twelve years ago, at about the same time in the legislative session as we are now, I reported that ethics reform efforts were on life support. I’m not ready to make the same call in 2019. But with four weeks to go in this year’s session, agreement on a bill to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for a seven-member independent ethics commission added to the state Constitution by 75 percent of voters in November isn’t looking quite as inevitable as it once did. As of today, there are competing ethics commission bills.

The clock starts on ethics reform

With four weeks to go in this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers have time to pass an independent ethics commission proposal, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Thursday. Egolf made his prediction an hour or so after a House Committee cleared a proposal that would ask New Mexicans to amend the state constitution to create an independent ethics commission. The bill has only one more stop – the House Judiciary Committee – before it would head to the floor of the House of Representatives. But the question mark regarding ethics reform has never been the New Mexico House of Representatives. That chamber has passed several versions over the years.

Video: Rep. Jim Dines says subpoena power important for ethics commission

New Mexico is one of the few states that doesn’t have a state ethics commission, and Rep. Jim Dines, R-Bernalillo, hopes to change that. House Joint Resolution 8 proposes an independent ethics commission that oversees complaints concerning state officers and employees, lobbyists, campaigns, and state contractors. Rep. Dines says the subpoena powers contained in the resolution are important. “It gives the commission the ability to obtain records that are out there that would be able to help end the investigation of a potential ethics complaint,” said Rep. Jim Dines. Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Jeff Seinborn (D- Doña Ana), Rep Nathan P. Small (D- Doña Ana), and Rep. Bill McCamley (D- Doña Ana).