It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night.
The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque.
But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.
Dines said a conference committee would be the best way to deal with differences between the two chambers.
The resolution calls for creation of a seven-member commission that would investigate and adjudicate possible ethical violations by state legislators, executive branch officials, lobbyists, candidates for state offices and state government contractors. The commission would have subpoena power.
The original resolution that unanimously passed the House last week spelled out many details of how the ethics commission would operate. These included member qualifications, how members would be appointed, how complaints would be handled and transparency rules it would have to abide by.
But on Wednesday the Senate Rules Committee adopted an amendment by its chairwoman, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, that removed many of the specifics.
Dines told the House members Thursday that, following a debate in the Senate, he became convinced that those details are needed in the proposed constitutional amendment.
House Speaker Brian Egolf appointed Dines as well as Reps. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, and Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, to represent the House on the conference committee. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen appointed Sens. Lopez, Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, to the conference committee.
The lack of details in the proposed constitutional amendment was the basis for much of the criticism it received during the Senate’s floor debate.
Some also expressed the fear that the commission would leak details of investigations of frivolous ethics complaints.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, had other criticisms. He said the ethics commission would be its own branch of government, usurping power from the judiciary branch.
Sharer, seven other Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate voted against the proposed constitutional amendment. Opposing it were Sens. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales; Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho; Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo; Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs; Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo; Carroll Leavell, R-Jal; Pat Woods, R-Broadview; and John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.