March 5, 2020

Lujan Grisham signs labor bill into law, dismisses transparency concerns

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a change to the state’s Public Employee Bargaining Act (PEBA) into law Thursday, despite government transparency advocates urging her not to. 

Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the law will ensure consistency and clarity for local labor boards around the state. 

“Our public employees – including teachers, sanitation workers, firefighters and police officers – deserve uniform rules and a uniform process to negotiate fair wages and safe working conditions,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Last week, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government asked the governor not to sign the bill in the name of transparency. The group argued that a possible unintended consequence of HB 364 is that information about public employees like hire dates would be kept a secret. The sticking point for the group, according to a letter they sent Lujan Grisham, is a provision that requires employers to pass on information about new employees within 10 days, but bars passing that information on to “a third party.” But, a lawyer for a New Mexico public sector labor union told the Albuquerque Journal that the language specifically supports the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) instead of eroding it as NM FOG claims.  

In the same press release from Lujan Grisham’s office on Thursday, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki reiterated that the governor’s office does not see the bill as problematic for transparency. 

“Concerns about a specific provision involving the transmission of employee information between public agency and union are well-intentioned and valuable, as this administration aims to honor and restore transparency in government after eight years of the opposite,” Stelnicki said in the statement. “But what was publicly accessible is very much still publicly accessible.”

In a statement issued after Lujan Grisham signed HB 364, NM FOG said the issue will likely not get cleared up until a challenge is filed in court. 

“While the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) appreciates Governor Michelle

Lujan Grisham’s public expressions of support for transparency in government, only time will

tell whether courts will construe the problematic provisions of House Bill 364 in the way the governor would like them construed or in the way they’re actually written,” the statement read. 

Questions about what information on public employees should be readily accessible led to a lawsuit in 2012 between the same labor union that pushed for HB 364 and then-Gov. Susana Martinez. The Martinez administration argued that information like hire dates, salaries and names of public employees should be published on the state’s Sunshine Portal. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees disagreed and convinced a judge to order the administration to remove information from the Sunshine Portal. The Martinez administration found a workaround and ended up publishing the additional employee information on a separate website. Currently the state’s Sunshine Portal, in addition to the state’s fiscal information, lists job titles and salaries, but not the names of those employees or their hire dates. 

The website Martinez setup however is all but a homepage, with no working links. 

The soon to be removed website created by the Martinez administration.

Judy Robinson, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, told NM Political Report on Wednesday that the old website is not being maintained by the current administration and will soon be taken down, citing the court’s 2012 ruling. 

“This administration honors that decision and reminds the public that even though the information about classified employees is not on the Internet, it remains a matter of public record and can be accessed through an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request,” Robinson said. 

Robinson added that the state’s website is in the “process” of getting reworked and that the database the Martinez administration posted will likely disappear when that process is complete. 

Besides labor law changes, Lujan Grisham also signed into law a major change in how quickly the terms of legal settlements with the state are made public. SB 64, sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, will make any settlements with the state public essentially as soon as it is official. Up until now, all legal settlements with the state that were handled by the Risk Management Division were required to remain confidential for 180 days.