State Ethics Commission Act Bills: Where Are They?

Eleven days left in the 2019 legislative session and counting!

To date, two State Ethics Commission Act bills have been introduced: HB 4 and SB 619.  Here’s what’s going on with both of them:

  • HB 4 (Rep. Daymon Ely): After a substitute bill was introduced in the House Judiciary Committee (HJC), the bill passed that committee, 8-0, and moved on to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC).  HB 4 was amended in the HAFC, passed that committee 14-0, and moved on to the House floor, where it passed by a vote of 56 to 11.  The bill now moves over to the Senate, where it has been referred to two Senate committees, Rules and Judiciary.
  • SB 619 (Sen. Linda Lopez): The bill has received three committee referrals in the Senate: Rules, Judiciary and Finance.  SB 619 has yet to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee (SRC), despite having been scheduled for at least discussion, twice. The bill is supposedly being heard tomorrow, Wednesday, March 6th, in the SRC, although no agenda for that meeting has been posted yet, as I write.  After SB 619 moves through the committees in the Senate, there will be a Senate floor vote and then it will move to the House, where it will receive committee referrals.

What does the status of these bills mean for State Ethics Commission legislation?  That we have a long way to go before we have enabling legislation that will be sent to the governor!

The Ethics Commission Working Group that New Mexico Ethics Watch (NMEW) participated in this summer and fall was co-chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez and former Rep. Jim Dines.  That group, with the assistance of NMEW and others, put together a draft bill.  Although there were areas within the bill, such as transparency, that could not be agreed upon, much of what appears in that draft bill was discussed and a consensus among working group participants was gained.  Surprisingly, SB 619 does not approximate the working group’s draft bill, while HB 4 does.  Rep. Ely, the sponsor of HB 4, attended several working group meetings, where he actively participated.  The HB 4 substitute, as amended, meets many of the nine elements NMEW set out in its Essential Elements for an Independent Ethics Commission document, published on January 24, 2019.  SB 619 does not.

NMEW has thought from the outset that SB 619 was a placeholder for something other.  (In part because it was a rehash of Sen. Lopez’s 2017 SB 218, and in part because it did not approximate the working group’s draft bill, upon which much discussion was had and about much of which consensus was reached.) As mentioned above, the bill has yet to be even discussed, let alone voted upon by the SRC.  We’ll see if tomorrow’s SRC hearing changes that! We anticipate, though, that a substitute for SB 619 will be introduced, potentially incorporating some or many provisions of the HB 4 substitute.

In the meantime, we have the substitute for HB 4, as amended, crossing from the House to the Senate. Is it a perfect bill? No.  Does it meet or contain many of the elements NMEW identified in its Essential Elements document? Yes.

Tomorrow we’ll take an in-depth look at how the HB 4 substitute stacks up against our Essential Elements document.