February 15, 2016

No decision on ethics commission until tomorrow

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The Senate Rules Committee sliced and diced a proposed constitutional amendment to create an independent ethics commission and delayed a decision until Tuesday.

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse, via Wikicommons.

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse, via Wikicommons.

The discussion on the independent ethics commission proposal by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, went so long that the committee rolled the legislation over until the next meeting so Senators could join the rest of the chamber on the floor.

“Please do not mistake the deliberative nature of the Senate for trying to kill something,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said, referring to tweets he saw that said the Senate Rules Committee was trying to kill the bill. “We’re trying to get it right.”

He mentioned that because it is a constitutional amendment, it is particularly important to get the wording right.

The legislation was also rolled over so that members could discuss a potential series of amendments to Dines’ legislation, ranging from small technical problems to questioning what should be part of the constitution and what should be in statute. On other portions, committee members objected to being part of any legislation.

One issue committee members said was troubling was what Dines called a transparency issue; that all complaints, even those deemed frivolous, would eventually be released publicly by the commission.

Senators raised the issue of political operatives filing a number of frivolous complaints, then sending out campaign mailers declaring that the candidate was facing that same number of complaints, even though they were dismissed for being frivolous.

Dines said that this can already happen and already does happen. He said he calls it the “bogeyman plan.”

Ivey-Soto questioned the detailed nature of the joint resolution.

“This is an awful lot of detail to be putting in the constitution,” he said.

Cosponsor Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he appreciated that the legislation was “comprehensive.”

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, pointed out a potential technical problem with the version that passed the House; that version said that the commission would have a member from all three congressional districts. The number of congressional districts can fluctuate depending on the population of New Mexico and the population of other states.

Ivey-Soto himself had a number of technical suggestions, from changing wording to changing the length of commissioner’s terms from four years to six years.

These will all be part of the discussions between now and tomorrow’s meetings.

Two other ethics-related pieces of legislation passed the committee.

“This is all about timing,” Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said of the prospect of passage.

Like in past committees, the names Dianna Duran and Phil Griego never came up. Duran is the former Secretary of State who resigned and was jailed after misspending campaign funds, while Griego is a former state Senator who resigned after he violated the state constitution when it came to a land deal.