Legislature seals deal on independent ethics commission

With hours to go in the 60-day session, state lawmakers reached a deal on a new, independent ethics commission New Mexicans overwhelmingly demanded in November’s election. The House voted 66-0 Friday night to approve the latest version of ethics legislation that has undergone multiple metamorphoses in the last several days. The Senate accepted the changes soon after, sending the bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for her signature. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who helped shape the bill approved by the House, said late Friday“tonight was step one,” of the state’s first independent ethics commission that would have oversight of state public officials. He predicted that the Legislature would return in coming years to add local government officials to those the ethics commission would oversee.

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.

With days to go, ethics commission legislation stalls

A few weeks ago, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, mentioned the option of passing a memorial creating a task force to study an independent ethics commission through 2019. Just in case, he said. Nibert wanted to see legislation that dictates what powers such a commission would have and how it would operate. But it was clear, even weeks ago, that agreement on a subject the Legislature has debated for 13 years might be difficult despite 75 percent of New Mexicans voting to enshrine the idea in the state constitution this November. But Nibert waited before asking a legislative agency to draft the memorial.

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.

Ethics commission bill clears first committee

The Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 Saturday morning to approve HB4, launching the ethics commission proposal on what likely will be an obstacle course with three weeks to go in the 2019 legislative session. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Damon Ely, D-Albuquerque, is in a race against the clock, needing to clear another House committee and a floor vote in the House before heading to the less friendly forum of the Senate, which has earned a reputation as a killing ground for ethics legislation over the past decade and a half. The proposal approved Saturday appropriates $1 million for a proposed ethics commission empowered to fine individuals guilty of violating ethics rules. The commission could also issue subpoenas to pry loose information in an investigation and if a target refused to comply ask a state court to enforce it. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales

Hearing panels to investigate ethics complaints would use the civil standard of preponderance of the evidence, instead of higher legal standards, to find violations.

Ethics legislation drops, but tricky path ahead for popular idea

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

A bill to create an independent ethics commission was introduced Monday, nearly halfway through the 2019 legislative session. That’s later than expected given the overwhelming public support in November for the idea. The legislation, HB 4, introduced by Albuquerque Democrat House Rep. Damon Ely,  would flesh out how much power the seven-member independent ethics commission will have, its funding and how transparent it is. But it won’t be alone for long. Whispers are that there will be competing ethics measures.

Legislature fleshes out details of ethics commission in 2019

Three-quarters of voters in November supported enshrining an independent ethics commission in the state Constitution, making New Mexico one of more than 40 states with similar oversight bodies. Just getting an ethics commission took more than a decade and contentious year-in, year-out legislative debates. But the most the difficult year may be 2019. State lawmakers over the next 60 days will make big decisions about the seven-member commission: how much power it has, how much funding it gets, and, perhaps thorniest of all, how open and transparent its work will be. These questions will revive old battle lines from the past nearly 15 years when a bipartisan collection of supporters in the Legislature annually squared off against an equally bipartisan coalition of opponents.

Ethics proposal could double as business recruiting tool, supporters say

Voters could make New Mexico history tomorrow. Yes, the state likely will make U.S. history, too, sending the first Native American woman to Congress. But New Mexico could join more than 40 other states if voters approve constitutional amendment question No. 2 that would create an independent state ethics commission. Approval, which would come after more than a decade of unsuccessful attempts, might be viewed as New Mexicans’ response to the state’s long-suffering reputation for corruption.

NMID’s Trip Jennings discusses ethics commission proposal on NMPBS

NMID’s Trip Jennings discussed a November ballot measure that would create an independent ethics commission on the New Mexico PBS public affairs show “New Mexico in Focus.” If voters approve the measure Nov. 6, the Legislature, with input from New Mexico’s next governor, will work out how the commission will operate and who it will oversee during the 2019 legislative session. Already, a working group meeting through the fall is discussing draft ethics commission legislation that would go to state lawmakers to prime the conversation. The group’s next meeting is Thursday afternoon at the University of New Mexico Science & Technology Park Rotunda, 851 University Boulevard SE, Albuquerque.

In historic first, NM state senate passes ethics commission proposal

The state senate voted 30 to 9 early Thursday afternoon to ask voters next year to enshrine an independent ethics commission in the state constitution.

“This is a really big step for us in New Mexico,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces told his colleagues moments before asking his colleagues to support the proposal. “I think it will be healthy for democracy.”

Steinborn, who presented House Joint Resolution 8 to the Senate, was alluding to the decades-long effort to get to this moment: The New Mexico state Senate voting on a proposal that would move the state closer to joining more than 40 states that already have an ethics commission.

The senator might have spoken a bit too early, however.

The Legislature isn’t finished with the proposal yet. The House of Representatives must decide whether to agree or disagree to changes a senate committee made Wednesday to the proposal that the House passed 66-0 earlier this month.