Beginning next year, the New Mexico House plans to make archived recordings of its floor sessions and committee meetings available online. That’s intended to increase citizen access by giving those who can’t attend meetings in person or watch webcasts live a way to catch up at their convenience.
Members of the House voted 62-0 to approve archiving of video and audio webcasts on Tuesday. A persistent Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, pushed the rule change again this year, even after his proposal died in 2014 and 2015 without a floor vote.
Apparently the third time’s a charm.
“When this archiving begins, citizens will be able to watch the Legislature at their convenience and have a record of our proceedings,” Steinborn said.
“I deeply appreciate my colleagues for embracing this historic step,” he said.
Like the House, the New Mexico Senate currently webcasts live feeds of its floor sessions and committee meetings but doesn’t save recordings of those webcasts to make available online later. Joint interim committee meetings are also webcast but not archived.
On Tuesday the House also approved, on a vote of 61-0, a bill sponsored by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, that would require archiving of all webcasts of House, Senate, and interim committee meetings.
“Preserving the public’s access to these records improves transparency and helps the public stay informed,” Baldonado said. “Enacting this legislation will let New Mexicans across the state observe what their elected officials are doing in Santa Fe.”
Baldonado’s bill would need Senate approval before the session ends Thursday at noon, and the governor would have to sign it.
The House can set its own rules without the approval of the Senate or governor, which is the route Steinborn took. The new House rule requires archives to be available to the public for five years after meetings are webcast live. While the rule states that archiving will begin in 2017, it also states that archiving is “subject to the financial capability of the House.”
No senators sponsored legislation this session that would require that body to archive webcasts.
Archiving webcasts has become a fairly common way to increase citizens’ access to their government. It allows people with busy schedules to catch up when they have free time.
Currently, 41 state legislatures archive webcasts of at least some of their meetings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in New Mexico, the state’s largest cities — Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe — archive webcasts of meetings of their governing boards. So do many smaller towns including Las Vegas, Silver City and Socorro.
Locally in Las Cruces, other governing bodies, including the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners, the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education, and the New Mexico State University Board of Regents archive webcasts of their meetings.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration also archives webcasts of meetings of many state boards and commissions, such as the Board of Finance.
The battle for webcasting and archiving isn’t only being fought in the Legislature. The state’s Public Regulation Commission doesn’t archive its webcasts. And activists in Hobbs are continuing their push for the city commission there to begin webcasting.
Meanwhile, transparency dies in Senate
Tuesday’s vote for greater transparency and accessibility in the House came as two other ethics bills died in the Senate, which has generally been more resistant to ethics and transparency legislation than the House for the last decade.
The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday voted down Steinborn’s proposal to require greater disclosure from lobbyists at the Roundhouse.
And Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, withdrew his proposal to create a state ethics commission, which would set ethical standards for the executive and legislative branches of government and help police violations. He did that because the Senate Rules Committee was poised to approve a substitute bill that would strip the commission of transparency and make other changes.
Dines called the substitute bill “a toothless tiger” and said he didn’t want his name on it.
Steinborn, who is giving up his House seat this year to run for a seat in the state Senate, was co-sponsoring the ethics commission bill along with Dines.