Iron Curtain over Santa Fe

Democracy in New Mexico is hard to come by because most citizens don’t know what’s going on in the opaque shadows of government. Unless you’re actually attending the legislative sessions and committees in Santa Fe, odds are you won’t be able to see through the impenetrable iron curtain surrounding the Roundhouse.
New Mexico is one of only four states nationwide that don’t broadcast any part of the legislative process. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Mark Boitano, the state Senate will begin web casting its floor sessions starting January 20. Excellent; this is a big step for a government whose transparency is nearly non-existent.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives and the myriad of legislative committees remain largely undocumented. Every time a bill is introduced in either house, it’s assigned to at least one, usually three, committees for deliberation (One committee is perfectly normal. The speaker assigns bills he and/or the majority don’t like to multiple committees in order to bring about their deaths. In addition he’s been known more than once to change a bill’s committee assignments in mid-stream.) Minutes, if they’re kept, are not made public for any of these standing committee hearings. The only time anything is publicly documented is if they actually decide to take a vote on it.
In 2007 (the last 60-day legislative session), three groundbreaking bills aimed toward increasing government transparency were introduced, and only one actually made it through without getting lost in the usual veil of secrecy. Rep. Brian K. Moore introduced House Bill 235, which would’ve forced the state to disclose exactly who was getting special exemptions through the tax code and how much the state was foregoing. The bill passed through the House and Senate with flying colors. According to the Senate Chief Clerk’s Office, Senator Michael Sanchez of Valencia County was the only legislator in the entire state to vote against the bill… before Bill Richardson used a pocket veto to kill the legislation after the Legislature adjourned.
Reps. Larry Larranaga and Kathy McCoy teamed up with House Bills 554 and 993 (respectively) to create a searchable transparency website where all state revenues and expenditures would be made available to the public (including the recipients of all state contracts). Both bills were “postponed indefinitely” in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
Without some detailed, written record of the committee hearings, we’ll never be able to actually know what was discussed unless we attend. Democracy will not be able to succeed until the citizens of New Mexico are allowed to watch everything the politicians are doing in government. That’s a right to which we are entitled. Unfortunately, there are probably plenty of bad reasons why Governor Richardson doesn’t want us to know who’s getting special favors in the tax code and why Lujan and the House Taxation and Revenue Committee want to make it hard for us to know where our money’s going.

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