By Marisa Demarco
— Things are starting to crackle and pop at the Roundhouse. More bills have been introduced, lawmakers are wheeling and dealing, and the issues of the day are making their slow, painstaking trek through the democratic process.
Fetus as Evidence
Word spread like wildfire around the country of a potential law in New Mexico that would treat abortion as “tampering with evidence” in rape cases. That bill was sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Republican newcomer from Eddy County who took office in 2011. Abortion rights advocates took up arms as the story hit various news outlets. ProgressNow New Mexico said Brown’s measure would turn victims into “incubators of evidence for the state.” An Eddy County commissioner, Roxanne Lara, began petitioning for Brown’s resignation.
The measure, House Bill 206, was introduced Wednesday, Jan. 23. By Thursday, Rep. Brown’s contact information was wiped from the Legislature’s website — no legislative office phone number, no personal number, no email address and no home address.
The legislation initially read: “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of a crime.”
Brown, an attorney, issued a clarifying statement. The bill was not meant to punish rape victims, she said. Rather, the intent was to make it a felony offense to force a victim to have an abortion to cover up a crime. “The rapist — not the victim — would be charged with tampering of evidence. I am submitting a substitute draft to make the intent of the legislation abundantly clear,” she said.
The second version of the measure specifies the mother would not be subject the felony charges outlined in the bill.
The lawmaker was otherwise unavailable for comment. She has served as a board member for Right to Life of Carlsbad, according to Ballotpedia.
Can you record a conversation without the participants knowing about it? Sen. Bill O’Neill (D-Albuquerque) wants to answer that question once and for all by ensuring confidential conversations stay that way. O’Neill’s measure would make it so that all parties must consent to be recorded. It exempts law enforcement, emergency personnel or when the communication “occurs anonymously, repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour.” As things stand, federal law allows phone calls and in-person conversations to be recording when one of the parties consents.
Thirteen states have laws in place similar to what O’Neill’s proposing.
The Rio Grande chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement saying the measure would be a blow to journalism in New Mexico. The ability to record conversations is a tool in accurate reporting, SPJ says, and prevents misquoting. O’Neill’s measure, if passed, would diminish the autonomy of reporters and take away a key defense, according to the statement.
Here’s the funny part: I called the cell phone number listed on O’Neill’s legislative page and left a message requesting an interview about this issue. An hour later, he pocket-dialed me back. He was talking about this very measure with someone else in a crowded room. That’s either a hilarious coincidence or a genius PR move. (Don’t worry, senator. Either way, I didn’t record it. And I politely hung up. After a while.)
Back to confidentiality. Gov. Susana Martinez’ chief of staff, Keith Gardner, was recorded in 2011 talking smack about other legislators, tongue-thrashing with a particular vengeance longtime Democratic state Sen. Tim Jennings. (Jennings lost his seat in November.)
Gardner also mentioned that he used his private email for work because anything sent through his state address could be considered public record and would be available to the public if anyone filed an IPRA request.
Which brings us to email-gate, a story that ranged over much of last year and culminated in the Santa Fe Reporter making a public records request to the state attorney general for those private emails. From this exciting give and take between government business, public information and the press, we learned that the governor purchased a book called Loving Sex by Laura Berman. (We also learned other valuable things, which you can read about at bit.ly/SFRemail.)
And hopefully the state gleaned an important lesson about the public-private divide: If it concerns public business, it should be public record. So says Gwyneth Doland, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, in an editorial we published at nmcompass.com. Read it at bit.ly/FOGemail.
Hire That Babysitter
Speaking of Doland, she and the Foundation for Open Government are pushing for a bill that would require public bodies to post their agendas 72 hours before a meeting. State law today only requires 24-hour notice. “For the average person taking the time to go to a public meeting in their community is a big deal, and it requires some shuffling of the schedule,” Doland said. One day of notice that your issue is on deck is not enough time to hire a babysitter, ask for time off work or organize the rest of your neighborhood association, she added.
This is the third year an attempt has been made to move such a bill through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk. It largely maintains bipartisan support and sailed through the House last year just days before the session ended. But the measure lost its race against the clock.
* This article originally appeared on Page 5 of Local iQ. Look for Compass reports there in every edition through the end of the legislative session.