UPDATE (03/13/15): House Bill 378 to require the opportunity for public comment in public meetings received a “do pass” from the House Judiciary Committee and will advance to the House floor for a vote. With only a week remaining in the session, amendments to the bill are still pending for debate and time is of the essence. FOG is appreciative that the committee has voted to move the bill forward.
UPDATE (02/27/15): An incremental victory for free speech and your right to know in the New Mexico Roundhouse. House Bill 378 was unanimously (8-0) passed through the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee this morning. The language in the bill will be fine tuned based on the recommendation of the committee. The measure will then advance to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
UPDATE (02/26/15): House Bill 378 will go before the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee (Room 305) at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, February 27, 2015. We urge all open government advocates to be present at this hearing and speak in favor of the measure. If you cannot make it up to the Roundhouse, please call or email representatives serving on this committee and ask them to advance the bill.
FOG supports legislation introduced this week by Rep. Jim Smith (R – District 22) and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D – District 15) would require that public comment be permitted during public meetings.
House Bill 378 amends the current Open Meetings Act and requires public bodies to set aside a reasonable amount of time for individuals to speak in public meetings. The bill further stipulates that public bodies allow a diversity of viewpoints be presented, regardless of the time allotted.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, NMFOG, is championing the measure.
“This legislation is critical to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to weigh in on matters of public importance,” NMFOG president of the board Greg Williams said. “A key aspect of public meetings is allowing our public officials to hear directly from the citizens they represent. This amendment to the Open Meetings Act makes clear that any public meeting must allow an opportunity for public comment.”
Susan Boe, executive director of NMFOG, noted that although most public bodies already allow for public input, a number of problems arose in the state last year regarding this issue.
“In some public meetings, citizens have felt intimidated or threatened when they tried to address a public body on a controversial topic,” Boe said. “In other cases, public bodies offered no opportunity for citizens to speak unless the chair of the committee chose to allow input. Within the last 12 months, we have had two federal court decisions in which New Mexico public bodies violated a citizen’s First Amendment rights during a public comment period.”
HB 378 must be approved by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee before proceeding to the full House for a vote. If approved by the House, the bill will be forwarded to the New Mexico Senate.