Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

3-12 What Are They Trying to Hide?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Governmental transparency took a step backward last week when the Senate passed a bill removing the requirement for electronic filing of campaign expense reports.
The excuse was that some legislators aren't smart enough to figure out how to do it. The measure was sponsored by Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez, who claims he is one of those dummies.
Besides being the Senate's leader, Sanchez also is a trial lawyer. One would think that a person with those accomplishments would be able to muster the resources to help him file his report even if he is technologically challenged.
I can understand being mystified about computers. But I can learn enough to do research on the Internet and electronically transmit my columns to newspapers. One would hope our lawmakers would be smart enough to do what their positions require, or at least find someone to help them.
Why get so upset about campaign expense reports not being filed electronically? Well, we also have had a technologically challenged secretary of state the past eight years. Rebecca Vigil-Giron's office found it extremely difficult to transfer hard-copy campaign expense reports onto the office's Web site.
That means the only way of learning before an election who is contributing to candidates for public office is to go to the secretary of state's office and digging through files. Mr. and Ms. New Mexico aren't able to do that. But they could if the reports were on the Internet.
Last week, I told you how Senate leaders of both parties seem determined to block any attempts to open up the legislative process to fuller public scrutiny.
The ethics legislation, developed over the past year by a blue-ribbon committee appears doomed in the Senate. So does legislation to open conference committee meeting between House and Senate representatives to iron out differences in measures passed by their respective houses.
And then, there is the televising of legislative session, which passed the Legislature last year but which still hasn't been implemented. Inside sources tell me the problem is that they are trying to show the public the least they possibly can without being accused of hiding something.
Legislative leaders usually blame open government proposals on the press. They contend we want to get the information so we can distort it to fit our own agendas. But if that information can be televised and put on state government Web sites, the public can view it directly without being filtered by our devious minds.
About all we can hope for is that Senate leaders will have a glorious epiphany between now and the March 17 final day of the session. There's not much time left.
Now here's some good news for the tens of thousands of New Mexicans who have had their lives or businesses adversely affected by the state's new SHARE computer system. Lawmakers are taking some initial steps toward finding out what is wrong and fixing it.
A measure is moving through the legislative process to provide $150,000 to the state auditor's office to determine what is not working with the $29 million system.
In addition, the Legislative Finance Committee, following our column last week on SHARE, has notified state officials responsible for the program to prepare for an LFC audit of their operation.
LFC Chairman Luciano "Lucky" Varela, of Santa Fe, notes that the committee spent six months calling state officials before it to answer many questions about the system's failures. Evidently the committee now has decided that the assurances it received were nothing more than empty promises.
In another bit of partially good news, a federal jury has decided that former intelligence adviser Scooter Libby is not beset by early-onset Oldtimers disease.
This can give us some confidence that our national defense is not in the hands of people with memory problems, just people who have trouble telling the truth.
MON, 3-12-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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