Public meeting agendas must be posted 72 hours in advance

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The Open Meetings Act was amended by the Legislature this year, and the new requirements were discussed at New Mexico Association of Counties legislative update April 10 at the Socorro County Annex.

As of June 14 when the amendment takes effect, public bodies must make their final meeting agendas available to the public 72 hours before a meeting, rather than 24 hours as previously required, according to a preliminary report on the legislative session prepared by Tasia Young, NMAC contract lobbyist. The bill is HB 21: Public Meeting Agendas 72 Hours in Advance.

District 15 Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto said the bill had its genesis in two situations, one in which he was involved representing a county before the Board of Psychologists. The board was based in Santa Fe but holding a meeting in Las Cruces.

“And they wouldn’t tell me if my client’s issue was going to be on their agenda until they posted their final agenda 24 hours before the meeting,” Ivey-Soto said. “And they only posted it in the hallway outside their door in Santa Fe … for a meeting in Cruces.”

Ivey-Soto said in creating the legislation, they started with the intent it would only apply to state level public bodies. However, they ended up with the 72-hour rule applied across the board instead of having different rules for different levels of government.

Ivey-Soto pointed out the legislation stipulates final meeting agendas must be posted 72 hours, not three business days, before the meeting. He said the two major changes are the 72-hour requirement and that public bodies must post their agendas on their websites.

Ivey-Soto said the amendment was discussed extensively at the midsession NMAC board meeting, including how it would impact local governments. He stressed county commissions and city councils are not the target of the bill; county and city boards are often monitored by self-appointed watchdogs in the community, as well as local media. Also, the distances aren’t as far for constituents to attend those meetings.

“The problems end up being two-fold; one is the statewide groups,” Ivey-Soto said. “The other is these other small public bodies that nobody pays attention to.”

Ivey-Soto said he brought an amendment to the Senate Rules Committee that would have provided for 36 hours’ notice for county and city boards as long as they post their preliminary agendas to their websites 72 hours in advance, but he “got beat up” for it and was the only one who voted for it.

HB 21 then went to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said, where “in an irony” the bill was placed on the committee’s consent calendar with no notice and it was approved by the committee without discussion.

Ivey-Soto said the bill has two exceptions. If a public body meets more than once per week, it can have 36 hours’ notice for one meeting since there are not enough hours in a week for 72. The other exception is for a case of emergency. Any emergency measures adopted must be submitted to the state Attorney General within 10 days of the meeting. The requirement to report to the AG is waived if the emergency is a state or national emergency.

Other legislation discussed at the NMAC District 3 meeting included:

  • HB 225: Electronic Voter Registration Updates, effective July 1. This law permits offices of the Motor Vehicle Division to send voter registrations electronically to the Secretary of State or appropriate county clerk instead of relying on paper registrations, which is the current practice. It applies to first-time applicants and updated information on existing registrations.
  • HB 497: Electronic Voter Registration Updates, effective July 1, 2014. This law permits currently registered voters to update their information through the Internet when they move. It does not apply to first-time registrants.
  • HB 615: Volunteer Firefighters Stipends, effective June 14. This three-paragraph bill allows volunteer firefighters to be paid a stipend to the extent consistent with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to maintain volunteer status. The stipend must represent only actual expenses, reasonable benefits or a nominal fee.
  • SB 20: Raise Probation Costs for Defendants, effective June 14. This bill raises the maximum amount that a magistrate or district court can require a defendant to pay a county for probation services, from $30 to $50 per month.
  • SB 27: Public Employee Retirement Change, effective July 1. This 104-page bill makes many changes in provisions for pension benefits and administration of the Public Employee Retirement Act.

Young said the state had a seriously underfunded pension. District 12 Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said SB 27 will get the pension up to 91 percent solvency in 20 years.

  • SB 40: Electronic Communications Devices Prohibited in Jails & Prisons, effective July 1. This bill prohibits electronic communications or recording devices from “knowingly and willingly” being brought onto the grounds of a detention facility to transfer to an inmate.
  • SB 249 Statewide Construction Inspectors, effective June 14. This bill creates certifications for “inspector,” “statewide inspector” and “certified building official” at the state and local levels to be administered by the Construction Industries Division. Those currently acting as certified building officials are given five years from the bill’s effective date, June 14, to become certified.
  • SB 289: Five Year Senior Property Tax Freeze, effective June 14. This bill amends the limitation of increase in property valuations for dwellings occupied by low-income property owners who are at least 65. Once the limitation is applied for and granted, the county assessor will automatically grant it for five years.
  • SB 371: No Social Media Access for Employers, effective June 14. This bill makes it unlawful for an employer to require prospective employees to provide their password or other access to their profiles on a social networking website.
  • SB 431: County Firefighting Contracts, effective June 14. This bill expands the powers of county commissions under the Miscellaneous Powers of Counties Act to allow counties to contract with individuals for firefighting services. Grace Phillips, NMAC attorney, cautioned that although counties can contract with individuals, they cannot contract with volunteers.