February 13, 2019

Public records bills include secrecy on lottery winners

State Sen. Pat Woods says big lottery winners can turn into losers, so he wants to conceal their identity from the public.

His push for secrecy initially failed Tuesday when the Senate Public Affairs Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the proposal, Senate Bill 397.

But then committee members reconsidered and advanced Woods’ bill in a 5-2 decision.

“I hate hearing stories of people who win lottery prizes and are broke shortly thereafter,” said Woods, R-Broadview, in arguing for the state-sanctioned gambling operation to keep winners’ names private.

He said those who claim jackpots often don’t know how to manage their money and are easy prey for con men and unscrupulous family members.

“If we restrict public information about them it may help them keep some of that money,” Woods said.

Some committee members and members of the public spoke against the bill. They said the New Mexico Lottery is a public entity that should not be able to withhold the names of prize winners.

Woods said eight states already allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.

Committee members also approved two bills with different implications for access to public records.

Senate Bill 285 by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would fine government agencies that do not comply with requests for records or do not respond to requests within 15 days.

His proposal would put in statute penalties of up to $100 a day if agencies fail to provide information by established deadlines.

Currently, it falls on the requester of records to petition a court to rule on allegations in that the open records law was skirted.

Candelaria said codifying fines would make government more responsive to meeting requests for public records.

Committee members unanimously approved Candelaria’s bill. It moves forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee also advanced Woods’ Senate Bill 232, which is somewhat at odds with Candelaria’s proposal.

Senate Bill 232 would give government agencies that find open records requests to be “undue hardship” the right to petition the courts to decide whether they can have more time to respond or whether those responses “should be fulfilled at all,” said Woods, sponsor of the legislation.

Woods said the bill would help alleviate the burden on public records custodians who may receive countless requests, including some that are broad and difficult to meet. That bill also gives those custodians up to 90 days to respond to such requests.

State agencies now have up to 15 days to provide the records. But state law still gives those entities leeway to request more time if they say the request is burdensome.”

Advocates for open government testified that they had concerns about the scope of the term “undue hardship.” They liked that the bill set a firm deadline for agencies to respond, but said 90 days was too long.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, was the only committee member to vote against the bill.

“We’ve all come across people in life who feel that the most recent public records request is an undue hardship on them,” he said.

Committee members asked Woods to consider changing the 90-day deadline to 45 days. He said he was comfortable with that suggestion. The bill also goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said she thought the two bills that advanced were in conflict, since they charged the state’s court system with very different jobs.

But committee chair Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the Judiciary Committee would have to sort out any conflicts in the proposals.