Free the Data—Crack open the databases, New Mexico. Taxpayers want a look. Under Rep. Joseph Cervantes' (D-Las Cruces) bill, the state would allow people to peruse electronic collections of data "maintained by or on behalf of a public body."
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is pulling for the transparency measure, arguing that since your taxes are being used to collect the data, you should be allowed to look at it. We're talking about info on crime, education and the environment, among other topics. As things stand, state data can be subject to stiff copyright restrictions.
Sarah Welsh, executive director of NMFOG, says she has high hopes for the bill. She anticipates opposition from the Taxation and Revenue Department, which sells info from the motor vehicle database. "That's a stream of revenue for them, which then funds programs." But the foundation is looking to make the case that this law is bigger than just one database.
Mysterious Influences—New Mexico's election law does not require independent political activists to tell the state what they’ve spent advocating for or against candidates. That may not sound like a big deal. But Common Cause's Steve Allen forcefully summarizes in an e-mail why a bill to close that loophole must succeed:
"We're in trouble if we don't get this passed this session. Anonymous money is going to flow from all over the place, including out of state, to influence our elections, and we won't have any idea who (or what) is supporting (or trashing) which candidate. Scary world."
There are a couple of measures making their way through the Roundhouse to address this issue. One was created by Attorney General Gary King and is being carried by Rep. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces). But it's "too aggressive to be enforceable," according to Allen. Another, brought by Rep. Brian Egolf, (D-Santa Fe), may not be tough enough. The third, which Common Cause is advocating, is sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), and it goes as far as it can without violating the constitution, Allen says.
Here’s how Wirth's bill works: Say a person or group spends more than $300 on media to talk up or tear down a candidate. That entity would have to report to the Secretary of State's Office within three days. The same goes for any such communication to at least 500 eligible voters inside 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.
(In the interest of disclosure: Allen was once an editor at the Alibi.)
Save the Bikers—A hundred motorcyclists and dozens of bicyclists rallied together for Biker Day in Santa Fe in late February. They stood in support of a bill that ups the penalties for motorists who drive carelessly and either kill someone or cause great bodily harm. It makes sense that the bikers and cyclists would find common ground on this issue, says Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation, in an e-mail. "Car drivers don't see any of us two-wheeled vehicle drivers, whether we are wearing leather or Lycra."
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Rick Miera (D-Albuquerque), would make it so that a careless driver can be charged with a misdemeanor. As things stand, the penalty for careless driver is $300 or a maximum of 90 days in jail. This bill raises that to a $1,000 fine or a max of 364 days in jail. (There are stiffer punishments for those who commit reckless driving.) As of press time, the bill had passed the House and needed to be seen by two Senate committees.