March 9, 2017

House unanimously approves ethics commission proposal

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The New Mexico House of Representatives on Thursday night agreed to give voters a chance to establish a state ethics commission through amending the constitution.

The House voted 66-0 to pass House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque.

But the measure faces a harder time in the Senate, which despite a string of state government scandals in the past decade, has been the traditional burial ground for ethics legislation.

Under Dines’ proposal, a seven-member commission would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and executive branch officials. The proposed body also would investigate alleged violations of campaign finance laws, laws covering lobbyists and disclosure requirements for state contractors. Five commissioners would have to concur on any decision.

House Republican Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the structure of the commission is designed to keep politics out. “No one person — the governor, the Legislature — will be able to control it,” he said.

Gentry also said the fact that the commission would have subpoena power means the body would have teeth.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, also praised the resolution. “This meets the test of bi-partisan. … This is how this type of legislation should be done.”

The commission would not investigate anonymous complaints. Complaints would be published online as soon as the person accused of a violation submits a response. The complaint and the response would be published side by side.

The panel would have the power to dismiss complaints deemed frivolous. But the body would have to make public complaints that have been dismissed without a hearing and the reason for that dismissal.

The body would be authorized to issue advisory opinions about ethical issues raised by state officials.

Last year, by a vote of 50-10, the House passed a similar proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Dines.

However, that joint resolution met its end in the Senate Rules Committee. After Dines saw proposed changes to his legislation that the committee appeared ready to make, he pulled his own measure, saying the proposal would have become “a toothless tiger.”

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.



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