March 9, 2023

Bill to reform Game Commission heads to Senate floor


A bill that would change the appointment process for game commissioners heads to the Senate floor after unanimously passing the Senate Conservation Commission on Thursday.

HB 184 would change the appointment process to allow the Legislative Council to appoint four of the seven commissioners and the governor to appoint the remaining three commissioners. 

The Legislative Council would appoint a rancher or farmer; a conservationist with a wildlife organization that is not focused on a game species; a hunter or angler; and a scientist with a master’s degree in wildlife biology, conservation biology, fisheries science or management, wildlife management or a similar field.

“What this bill is intended to do is bring continuity, stability and professionalism to the commission,” bill sponsor Rep. Mathew McQueen, D-Galisteo, said during the Senate Conservation Committee meeting.

He said for a while the commission was unable to meet because it did not have enough members to form a quorum. While that has changed since the governor appointed a fourth member to the commission, McQueen said all the commissioners have to be present to achieve a quorum.

He addressed the two primary concerns that opponents have expressed: lack of geographic diversity and only one commissioner being a hunter or angler. 

The current commission is appointed based on geographic districts. There are five commission seats representing various parts of the state and two at-large commission positions. McQueen said the bill has more geographic diversity than current statute. This is because it states no more than two commissioners can be from the same county.

In terms of hunting and angling representation, McQueen said the current statute does not require any of the commissioners to be hunters or anglers.

“We just wanted to make sure that voice was represented,” McQueen said.

He said he would expect that more than one of the commissioners will be a hunter or an angler because that is who is primarily interested in serving on the commission. 

The commissioners can receive per diem, but they serve on a volunteer basis and are not paid a salary.

Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, is a co-sponsor of the bill. She repeated McQueen’s statement about the bill attempting to bring stability to the commission and added that it is also an attempt to depoliticize it.

The bill was amended in the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Conservation Committee.

Most of the amendments in the Senate Rules Committee were technical. The changes include requiring the Senate to confirm all appointees, including those appointed by the Legislative Council.

The amendments in the Senate Conservation Committee include one that says if a commissioner misses three consecutive meetings, their position on the commission will be deemed vacant.

One way that the bill brings stability and continuity to the commission is that commissioners can only be removed by the New Mexico Supreme Court. That prevents a new governor from coming in and removing all the commissioners.

McQueen acknowledged that the removal process is a high bar, but said that “high bar is to insulate the commission from political pressure.”

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said in her experience working with commissions, the primary reason for removing a commissioner is due to them missing meetings. 

Sedillo Lopez and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, worked together to craft language for the amendment that states the seat has been vacated if the commissioner misses three consecutive meetings.

The Game Commission meets five times a year and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Michael Sloan said it is rare for the commissioners to miss meetings.

Should the bill pass the Senate, it will return to the House of Representatives to address the changes made on the Senate side.