Ethics commission subpoena power becomes sticking point

In politics, misdeeds do not often play out in words or sweeping actions but are instead buried in papers and spreadsheets. So, a constitutional amendment that New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved last year to set up a statewide ethics commission allowed the proposed panel to collect documents, gather testimony and get other evidence during investigations by issuing subpoenas. But as lawmakers debate how exactly this commission should operate, many disagree over whether the panel should have the power to issue subpoenas on its own or if it should have to get the approval of a state court. The debate over subpoena power has emerged as a central point of contention and goes to show how many details of the commission’s structure and power were left for legislators to decide. The constitutional amendment “authorizes the commission to require the attendance of witnesses or the production of records or other relevant evidence by subpoena, as provided by law.”

Looming redistricting task prompts legislation

Everybody around the state Capitol seems to have a favorite example. There’s the state House district in Northern New Mexico that is split in two by a mountain range and wilderness. You couldn’t drive across it if you tried. Then there’s the state Senate district that stretches some 180 miles from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. When it comes to political districts that have been precisely if nonsensically contorted, the New Mexico Legislature has got some real doozies.

Proposal for state ethics commission advances to full Senate

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.

Sweeping charter school reform bill stalls in House committee

Democrats on the House Education Committee effectively killed an expansive charter school reform bill after two hours of testimony Wednesday, arguing that it was too complex and contained provisions that many charter school advocates oppose. “It’s more dead than less [dead],” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said after the committee’s 7-6 vote along party lines to table House Bill 273. The bill would have called for “automatic closure” of low-performing charter schools. It also removed a cap on the number of charter schools that could open in any given year, gave high-performing charter schools the ability to streamline their renewal process and would have cut charter school funding by 25 percent over the course of several years. Ivey-Soto and fellow co-sponsor Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, told the committee the measure would save money for the state and hold charter schools more accountable.

SCOTUS independent redistricting ruling means effort in NM will continue

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday leaves the door open for a big change to New Mexico’s redistricting system–if legislators and voters choose to implement the changes. The nation’s high court ruled 5-4 on Monday that an independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Arizona is one of sixteen states with similar processes for redistricting. Supporters of such commissions say that by taking the decision out of the hands of partisan politicians, oddly shaped districts designed to protect one party or politician will no longer be the norm. Opponents argued that this meant legislators would be abrogating their constitutional duty on making districts for elections.

House committee votes to advance voter ID legislation

A panel with a Republican majority split along party lines on Friday to approve a bill requiring voters to present photo identification before casting election ballots. Similar requirements enacted in other states have ignited controversy and costly court battles; critics contend voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters from low-income and minority communities. The legislation now heads to the House floor. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said HB 340 was drafted to safeguard the integrity of the elections process while also passing constitutional muster. “I like to think of this more as voter authentication,” Brown told members of the House Judiciary Committee.