The Sayings of Senator Lopez

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Senate Rules Committee: Where ethics bills go to die

Feb. 25, 2009: She (Sen. Linda Lopez) also promised to begin discussion on the proposal to create a state ethics commission “first thing” Friday, but said working out disagreements and drafting a committee substitute bill that combines several existing bills related to that controversial proposal will “take a little more time.” NM Independent

Feb. 28, 2009: “We do not let out every bill on its own. That’s not good law,” she (Lopez) said, promising, “the list looks long, but we’ll get some stuff moving this next week.” Santa Fe New Mexican

March 3, 2009: After the meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, said that the bills were moving slowly because the committee was “trying to reach consensus.” NM Independent

March 19, 2009: When asked whether she believed the issue was dead, Lopez said: “At least for this year — yes.” Several other ethics commission bills — including one sponsored by Lopez — have been pending for weeks in the Rules Committee… Albuquerque Journal

So one of the key ethics reforms of this session — an independent ethics commission — has been pronounced dead for another year.

In the dizzying wake of so many public corruption scandals, and just two days after the sentencing of former Senator Manny Aragon, New Mexico finds itself stuck in the dwindling list of state that still do not have an ethics commission.

A key figure in this ongoing public policy quagmire, Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez presents a fascinating study in contradictions.  On the issue of ethics reform, she strikes the pose of the ultra-cautious, deliberative lawmaker, working behind the scenes to hammer out a studied consensus between her colleagues.  They’re really the recalcitrant ones, you know. We must not rush to judgment in these weighty matters, she tells us.

So another week turns into another year, then another and another.

Yet in her other legislative persona, Lopez is the go-go-Senator-in-a-hurry,  boldly taking the TIDD tool where no TIDD has gone before, fast tracking a $400 million taxpayer handout to California developer SunCal — and obligating a good chunk of state revenues for the next 25 years.

Whoosh!

Here’s more of the backstory on Madam Chair and her committee — where ethics bills go to die:

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1/2 an Ethics Commission

henhouse-fox1Why go for the whole enchilada when you can just have half? Seems we might find out the answer to that question. Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed an ethics commission bill that would treat the executive branch differently than the legislative branch.

The bill has lingered for a month in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. But, something put wind in its sails over the weekend. That something was keeping control in the hands of legislators, when it comes to oversight of their branch of government.

In House Bill 151, if a member of the executive branch, a lobbyist, or a state contractor is found to have committed an ethics violation, a report is delivered to the ethics commission and is made public.

Conversely, if a member of the legislative branch is thought to have committed an ethics violation, the commission is instructed to deliver, in confidence, a report to the legislative ethics committee.

This is the equivalent of giving the henhouse keys to the fox. I doubt the public will buy the line that half of an ethics commission is better than the whole thing.