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New Mexico Legislature May Get More Transparent

Resolutions would expand webcasting and create a permanent archive of recordings.

Political junkies may soon have a more convenient way to keep tabs on the New Mexico Legislature. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is introducing resolutions that expand webcasting of legislative committee meetings and create a digital repository of session recordings.

House Concurrent Resolution 1 mandates that the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives webcast and record interim committee meetings that are held out of normal legislative session. Those occur periodically so lawmakers can hear presentations on public policy matters and take up out-of-session issues in state government. Currently only in-session committee meetings of the House are shared via webcast.

The additional webcasts would have been helpful last summer. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, there was increased public attention on out-of-session hearings when New Mexico stopped state and Medicaid funding to 15 medical providers across the state under the suspicion of fraud. At that time, Gov. Susana Martinez was sued by eight mental health companies looking for an injunction to restore state funding.

Becky Beckett, a behavioral health advocate, told the Sun-News that having archived recordings of the meetings would have been helpful.

“Had webcasting of interim committees been in place with archived recording, it could have kept thousands of New Mexicans better informed,” she said.

House Resolution 2 establishes a video archive and requires all New Mexico House of Representatives legislative committee meetings to be recorded and accessible online. Right now, the House doesn’t record its committee meetings, which requires people to view the webcasts in real-time, typically when many residents are at work and unable to watch.

The resolutions are internal rules legislators adhere to. Although not legislative bills, the resolutions are binding. Out-of-session hearings typically have a mix of Senate and House members, so the concurrent resolution must pass through both sides of the New Mexico Legislature. The House resolution, however, only applies to the House of Representatives.

In an interview with Government Technology, Steinborn explained that increased transparency and an emphasis on open government were priorities of his, and webcasting would “dramatically enhance” the opportunities for citizens to see what goes on during meetings. He said that the improved access would expose “a lot of games that are played in committee, as well with legislation,” so that constituents are fully aware of what their representatives are saying.

Regarding HC 2, Steinborn admitted that his idea is just for a rudimentary recording system that posts committee meeting video online. Anything more elaborate that would assist users in searching and researching particular committee meeting videos might have to come later, once the bill is approved and the recordings’ value is noticed.

“Depending on the bells and whistles that you want on that system, you’re talking about more money and resources,” Steinborn said. “I didn’t want that to be a holdup from us to be able to get a system going … so [we’re] trying to leverage the resources we have now.”

This isn’t the first time Steinborn has championed transparency improvements. He sponsored the resolution in 2010 that led to webcasting of the state’s in-session legislative committee meetings. The new initiatives also have bipartisan support, as Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, is listed as co-sponsor of both resolutions.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.
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