Issue: Good Goverment

Legislation & Policy Change

New Mexico First prepared information in response to research it has done on the establishment of a state ethics commission. The findings may inform future legislative or regulatory reforms.

Good Government Legislation Tops 2019 Session Agenda

  • 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION: Government Ethics and Transparency Key Focus 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION: Government Ethics and Transparency Key Focus
  • The 2019 New Mexico Legislative Session saw great strides made in promoting ethics and transparency in government. One of the most followed legislative proposals now law establishes a state ethics commission. Overall topics covered included establishing government ethics decision making entities, public records and the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), voting and elections, lobbying, public spending and media publication. Legislative leadership from both Republicans and Democrats was key throughout the session in passing meaningful legislative proposals. Undoubtedly, the success of various proposals is due mostly to the efforts of nonprofit organizations that have worked on these issues for many years and whose missions include advocating for the public’s right to access, engage and follow government processes and actions. This report provides brief summaries of good government related legislation introduced during the 2019 session.

    Ethics Commission Research

    In 2016, New Mexico First conducted a series of focus groups about the pros and cons of establishing a state ethics commission. Meetings were held with current and former public officials, as well as members of the media. While our research revealed a wide range of perspectives on the structure and timing of an ethics commission, most participants believed that New Mexico needs one. They offered a variety of reasons including public trust, fragmented existing systems, preventing honest mistakes, limitations of existing legal structures, and policymakers being asked to police themselves.

    In 2018, New Mexico voters passed a constitutional ballot initiative that called for establishing a state ethics commission. Legislators, voters’ rights advocates, good government organizations, business and community leaders have since come together to discuss and identify some of the principles and key elements that would build a solid foundation for an effective ethics commission.

    Principles of an Effective Ethics Commission

  • New Mexico First Legislative Brief: Ethics Commission Research New Mexico First Legislative Brief: Ethics Commission Research
  • Below are key principles for an effective state ethics commission that may serve as a guide when determining specific elements of legislative and regulatory proposals. These principles are based on research of best practices throughout the state and country, input from government officials current and former, business and community leaders, media and the public.

    Budget and Staffing
    • Budget for the commission is sufficient enough to support professional staff that can receive, and timely initiate, investigate and adjudicate complaints and provide timely advisory guidance.
    • Executive director may be an attorney and is knowledgeable about state laws related to accountability.
    • Commission may initiate, receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints and may issue subpoenas. Includes state legislative and administrative officials and employees, government contractors, prospective government contractors and lobbyists.
    • Commission has primary jurisdiction in the context of screening and referring complaints to the appropriate agency.
    • Commission has discretion to provide whistleblower protections to complainants.
    • Commission hearings and meetings are open to the public and comply with the Open Meetings Act.
    Decision Making and Process
    • Commission decisions require a quorum of at least four members, with at least two political parties needed to produce the quorum, to avoid partisan decision making by the commission.
    • Commissioner may be recused or may be disqualified by the commission in a commission proceeding in which the commissioner cannot render a fair and impartial judgment.
    • Commission issues and enforces fines and makes recommendations to superintending authorities for other penalties.
    • Government contractors and potential government contractors are held accountable through disclosure rules.
    Transparency, Public Notice, Reporting
    • Public has a known, accessible location to submit complaints and advisory inquiries.
    • Commission provides robust annual public reporting on its activities and decisions.
    • Commission provides a timely, equitable process and determinations, and public notice of determinations.
    • Process to submit a complaint and subsequent process is clear and accessible to the public.
    • Commission provides a publicly accessible advisory process and timely advisory guidance and opinions.
    • Disclosure of complaints and response provides transparency to the public.
    Evidence Standard
    • The standard of evidence to be applied by the commission is “preponderance of the evidence”, meaning that the commission is required to find that at least 51 percent of the evidence shown favors the complainant’s facts.
    These principles are supported by the following organizations:

    ACI – Association of Commerce and Industry
    League of Women Voters
    New Mexico First
    NM Common Cause
    NM Ethics Watch

    New Mexico First's position on current ethics commission legislation, HB4 - State Ethics Commission Act: Monitoring

    2017 outcomes

    In 2017, the New Mexico First focus groups informed multiple policy discussions about ethics reform. This issue had been advanced for over a decade by multiple organizations including Common Cause of New Mexico. The legislature passed described a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to establish a New Mexico Ethics Commission:

    HJR 8: State ethics commission: this joint resolution calls for an amendment to article 5 of the constitution of New Mexico to create an independent state ethics commission with jurisdiction to investigate and issue advisory opinions and exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate civil violations of laws governing standards of conduct. Authority would include campaigns of elected and appointed members of the legislature and executive branch, as well as legislative and executive branch state officers and employees, government contractors and lobbyists. Passed, constitutional amendment, goes to voters in 2018

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