New Mexico In Depth editors held the third of five online chats about the 2024 legislative session last week. Professor of Practice of Journalism at the University of New Mexico, and occasional contributor to New Mexico In Depth, Gwyneth Doland, joined Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress to discuss government transparency, legislative modernization efforts, and the Governmental Conduct Act.
Doland kicked off the conversation talking about the 14 students she takes to the Roundhouse every Wednesday and their experience thus far. “It’s interesting and cool to see things through their eyes,” she said, while noting that for newcomers, navigating the state capitol during a legislative session can be a lot to take in.
The three discussed efforts over the past 15 years to make the statehouse more accessible and understandable, including webcasting, budget transparency efforts, and showing what is stricken or added through amendments lawmakers adopt to change legislation, and making bills easier to track. One step backwards Jennings mentioned is that certain areas of the capitol have been closed to the public, making it more difficult to reach lawmakers for a conversation. Childress discussed an ongoing effort to bring more transparency to lobbying.
The three also discussed money included in the budget to provide lawmakers with paid staff, Doland said the idea is that the positions would be part of the Legislative Council Service, the full-time behind-the-scenes agency that the Legislature can’t live without. The service employs attorneys, analysts and employees who draft the bills state lawmakers want to present to their colleagues every legislative session.
Doland, Childress and Jennings also discussed an effort to let voters decide whether lawmakers should be paid a salary, or whether legislative sessions should lengthen in even years. New Mexico is the only state in the U.S. that does not pay its state lawmakers a salary. Childress noted that “you need to be retired or wealthy” to be a full-time lawmaker without another job in New Mexico and mentions how salaries could help diversify the Legislature, racially and ethnically but also financially and based on gender.
Lastly, Childress went into detail about a bill to fix the Governmental Conduct Act after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled the current statute is too vague for prosecutors to criminally charge public officials for a range of ethical violations.
Watch the chat here:
New Mexico In Depth is holding weekly conversations each Thursday at 12:30 during the 30-day legislative session. Please join us!