US

This State’s Government Wants To Restrict Public’s Right To Know

The New Mexico state government is hearing proposals and voting for measures to restrict open, transparent government, saying that the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act allows the public too much access to information.

The Inspection of Public Records Act, which has survived government efforts to restrict it since it was passed in the 1978, is meant to ensure “that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees,” but lawmakers are questioning if it’s too broad.

Gregory Williams, board president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, told the Albuquerque Journal that trying to restrict the Inspection of Public Records Act is “nothing new.”

“Basically, every session we deal with several attempts to roll back public access to public records,” Williams said.

Several proposals were introduced, including a bill that allows law enforcement to withhold the names of victims of crimes such as rape and stalking. Opponents of the legislation said this would restrict the public’s right to view police records because “it’s difficult to verify the official statements released by police or gauge the strength of a case that’s led to someone’s arrest,” according to the Albuquerque Journal. Additionally, the media will usually avoid using a victim’s name when covering the case, anyway.

Another bill would create a Public Accountability Board in order to “receive and investigate complaints” about several governmental acts, like the Campaign Reporting Act and the Governmental Conduct Act. However, the proceedings of the board would mostly be conducted in secret, prompting criticism.

At a panel at the University of New Mexico’s School of Public Administration last week, which included journalists and public information officers, the Inspection of Public Records Act was cited as one of the most helpful “tools…important for a free press…to verify facts, obtain information and research government policies,” as well as to “encourage professionalism among government officials,” according to the Daily Lobo.

New Mexico is not the only state to struggle with government transparency and integrity. In a 2015 investigation by The Center for Public Integrity, only three states scored above a D+, while 11 states, including Delaware, Kansas and Pennsylvania failed completely.

Grading was conducted based mostly on government transparency and accountability by not only looking at the laws, but how well they are enforced. New Mexico received a D-.