Bill would offer more online access to Legislature

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

Residents who want to know more about state government’s pocketbook, its power players and public meetings would have an easier time accessing information online under a series of measures introduced so far this session.

Ideas advancing their way through the process include expanding webcasting in the House and Senate, posting roll call votes in the House online, and creating a so-called sunshine portal that includes updated budget and investment information.

At the same time, the Legislature is considering several changes to laws governing lawmaker and public official conduct, such as an ethics commission. But given the budget crunch, and the limited time left in the 30-day meeting, some predict the Legislature might not make big changes in ethics laws this session.

The good government bills, meanwhile, seem to have widespread support and several have made significant progress, especially those that put more information in voters’ hands, advocates say.

“There’s a real demand for it, people expect to be able to access information online,” said Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

“There’s also more awareness because of the budget and the scandals we have. People should be able to keep an eye on what government is doing.”

Welsh said the biggest change being considered would be the sunshine portal, which would include regular updates on the state’s cash balances and its investment accounts. It also would make available the yearly operating budgets for state agencies, listing expenditures by category.

The portal measure (SB 195) sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, also would include a monthly list of the revenue received by the state, broken down by source, such as taxes, fees or fines. The portal would also include tools for tracking the status of capital outlay projects and public meetings.

In addition, it would include the contractor database that came online Jan. 1. and links to other state government sites that contain information of interest to the public, such as the Secretary of State’s Web site.

The bill is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

“The sunshine portal would be huge, assuming it’s easy to use and understand,” Welsh said.

While webcasting from various Roundhouse meetings gained traction last year, transparency has become even more a key issue this session, as scandals have swirled around Santa Fe. At the same time, all 70 House seats and all statewide positions are open this year, and some candidates have made open government part of their platforms.

Other proposals include:

— HR 1, which would webcast full House meetings, as is done in the Senate.

— HR 2, which calls for the audio of more House committee meetings to be webcast.

— HR 3, which would post online all roll call votes taken in the House, as is done in the Senate.

— SR 1, which would add cameras to the one that’s currently used to webcast meetings from the Senate floor.

— SR 4, which would mandate that the Senate start audio webcasts of its committee meetings this year and video webcasts in 2011.

— SB 42, which would put the state’s budget online.

— HB 33, which would put school district budgets online.

— SB 28, which would give the public more information about which state contractors have contributed to public officials.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.