Effort under way to open conference committees

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — An effort is under way to open up what goes on behind closed doors in legislative conference committees.
“Other public bodies have done this, and they’re still able to get things done,” said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of a measure to make conference committees meetings public.

Conference committees, made up of House and Senate members, meet to work out differences in bills that both chambers pass on the same subject but which are not identical.

Lawmakers who have opposed opening the meetings in the past contend it would prevent real negotiations. They contend lawmakers would tend to grandstand for the cameras rather than negotiate seriously.

Feldman said she believes the grandstanding would end after a month or so.

Speaker of the House Ben Lujan said attempts to open conference committees have failed repeatedly. Asked if the measure would pass this year, Lujan, D-Santa Fe, responded: “Most likely not.”

Senate President Pro Tem Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, said he prefers the committees closed.

In the past, the House has approved measures open the meetings, but the efforts have died in the Senate.

“The institution needs some privacy,” Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, now Senate majority leader, argued in the 2001 session.

Gov. Bill Richardson, attending a National Freedom of Information Coalition Conference in Santa Fe last year, supported opening conference committee sessions.

The governor on Wednesday sent lawmakers a formal message that he’d put the measure on his call — a necessary step for a nonbudget bill to be considered in a 30-day session.

“The governor believes the people should have the right to observe government in action and participate in the process,” said Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for Richardson.