Most of the attention during this 30-day session is focused on budget woes. But with all the bad press state politicians ate last year over accusations of dirty dealings, some ethics bills may have a shot after all.
There are several measures calling for a commission that would investigate complaints. One such bill is sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez and, on the House side, Rep. Bill B. O'Neill. This commission would draft ethics codes and issue advisory opinions. If an investigation turned up a violation, it would make its report on the matter public. Crimes would be reported to the attorney general or a district attorney.
What good is a commission if no one feels comfortable filing complaints?
Lopez' legislation has been criticized because it allows the commission to conduct its business behind closed doors. Commission hearings would not be open to the public, and all "complaints, reports, files, records and communications" regarding alleged ethics violations would be "confidential and not subject to the provisions of the Inspection of Public Records Act."
Some have argued these provisions are fair and prevent unfounded accusations from harming a person's career. If an ethics violation is proven, a report would go public. Others say the provisions go overboard and keep the public in the dark, which is a big part of the problem in the first place.
Another straightforward piece of ethics legislation that's been attempted for several years would prevent a public employer from retaliating against a worker who reports unlawful practices or policies. It also gives employees the right to sue if they have been retaliated against. They can ask to be reinstated in their old jobs if they've been fired and are eligible for two times the amount of back pay. Plus, they can recoup legal fees.
Gov. Bill Richardson made a point of pulling for this issue in his State of the State Address. And whistle-blower protection and the ethics commission go hand in hand. What good is a commission if no one feels comfortable filing complaints?
When special interests make political contributions to politicians in order to later gain big-money government contracts, that's pay to play. And the last few years have seen a number of accusations and proven cases erode public confidence.
Think New Mexico recommends a law preventing government contractors, special interests and registered lobbyists from making political contributions, period. Seven other states have enacted similar laws. The think tank says this will "reduce corruption and enhance public trust."
Similar bills have been introduced by Sen. Eric Griego and Sen. Tim Keller.