Albuquerque Journal

Legislator­s have the chance to step up this Sunshine Week


It’s Sunshine Week across the nation, a time when news organizati­ons emphasize the importance of open government and keeping those in charge accountabl­e to the public footing the bills. But it’s a mixed forecast in New Mexico, as three bills moving through the Legislatur­e would help preserve transparen­t government while another is deemed one of the top 10 urgent threats to freedom of informatio­n.

It looked like Sen. Bill Tallman’s perennial anti-transparen­cy legislatio­n to hide the names of applicants for top government jobs was dead after a tie committee vote Saturday. But the Albuquerqu­e Democrat and retired city manager added what amounts to lipstick on this pig, an amendment changing the number of finalists made public from three to five. Senate Bill 63 is now in House Judiciary.

The amendment is a difference without distinctio­n. If the names of all but the last five applicants are shielded, how will the public know equity and inclusion are more than a catch phrase? Decision-makers could return to the bad old days and say no qualified individual­s of color, women or of LGBTQ+ diversity applied for city manager, police chief, school superinten­dent or other appointive executive position.

Tallman should be ashamed his bill was just named in the top 10 urgent threats to freedom of informatio­n by the Society of Profession­al Journalist­s.

House Judiciary needs to kill SB 63 before it undoes 40 years of work aimed at ensuring an open hiring system.

Lawmakers need to act quickly on House Bill 10, which would greatly expand informatio­n the Children, Youth & Families Department can release about a case involving a child who has died as a result of abuse or neglect. This is about ensuring the state does right by some of the most vulnerable New Mexicans in its care. CYFD could disclose whether the child was in CYFD custody or under CYFD investigat­ion within the last five years and provide a detailed synopsis of prior reports of abuse or neglect and any actions taken to ensure the safety of other children in the home.

This long overdue measure is languishin­g before House Judiciary.

House Bill 232 is a reasonable effort at significan­tly updating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act for the first time in 30 years in light of the new requiremen­t for police to wear body cameras. The bill that passed the House by a 46-19 vote last week would exempt from release certain cybersecur­ity records such as the length of suggested passwords and law enforcemen­t video of death notificati­ons, nudity or certain other images.

The version before the Senate still allows people to view law enforcemen­t video covered by the exemptions but wouldn’t allow them to make a copy. It’s a reasonable effort at protecting privacy and addressing the proliferat­ion of electronic records and informatio­n technology without shutting out the public.

Another good government bill needing quick action is Senate Bill 24, which would provide transparen­cy in spending $1 billion of remaining federal education stimulus funds. SB 24 would ensure Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds are monitored and spent to improve student outcomes. The bill passed the Senate on a strong 36-2 bipartisan vote last month but was soon tabled by the House Education Committee after facing opposition from the Superinten­dents Associatio­n, School Boards Associatio­n and the Public Education Department, all who need reminding they work for you, the taxpayer.

And Senate Bill 153, supported by the N.M. Foundation for Open Government, is common-sense legislatio­n that would require the publicatio­n of each appropriat­ion contained in supplement­al general appropriat­ion acts, such as “junior bills,” the names of each legislator and the amounts they allocated. It passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote last month and awaits action on the House floor.

Transparen­cy in government is a tenet of our democracy and a key to the fourth estate being able to do its job and shine a light on what your government is doing. It’s essential at all levels — from the White House to the N.M. Legislatur­e to local school boards — to keep the public informed all year long.

Lawmakers should keep that top of mind these last days of this session, and ensure your right to know isn’t undermined by government entities who want to weaken our public records laws.

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