The NM Legislature is asking voters to approve two amendments to the NM Constitution that they passed through joint resolutions this spring. The League has condensed the material provided by the NM Legislative Council Service (LCS) staff, which has no opinion on the proposals. Below are summaries of each proposed amendment and some of the possible arguments for and against. The LCS makes no claim for the validity or consistency of the arguments presented, nor does the League.
Find the full LCS analysis here:
“PROPOSING AMENDMENTS TO ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF NEW MEXICO TO GIVE THE LEGISLATURE AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE FOR APPELLATE JURISDICTION BY STATUTE.”
Constitutional Amendment 1 proposes to allow the legislature to change the processes of appealing court decisions by enactment of a state statute. Currently the NM Constitution requires appeals of probate, magistrate and metropolitian court rulings to be decided initially by a district court before going to the court of appeals. A constitutional amendment would be needed to currently change that appeals process.
Appeals of some lower court decisions would go directly to the court of appeals instead of first going to district courts for intermediate rulings.
Could reduce caseloads in district courts.
District courts would benefit from having fewer cases. The public could benefit if district courts resolved cases more quickly by having a reduced caseload.
Would reduce unnecessary layers of appeal conducted at public expense.
Currently, some decisions have up to three levels of review, while other decisions with more serious penalties have up to two levels of review. Appeals of lower court decisions on traffic violations and other relatively minor offenses have new trials in district courts before they are allowed in the court of appeals and possibly supreme court. In contrast, appeals of felony criminal cases and other serious offenses go from district court to the court of appeals and possibly the supreme court.
Adding appeals from lower courts could mean that traditional cases would get less time and fewer resources. Changing the process might not benefit litigants.
May not result in greater court efficiencies and related cost-savings.
Lawyers, judges, and court staff would have to learn a new process. The courts of appeals may need more money to handle the increased caseloads.
District courts may be best suited to establish a record for review.
Probate judges and magistrate judges in 31 of 33 counties are not required to be licensed attorneys. A case appealed from one of these courts may benefit from a new trial in a district court presided by a judge with more experience and training. (District court judges must be at least 35 years old and have practiced law for at least six years.)
A JOINT RESOLUTION
PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 5 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF NEW MEXICO TO CREATE AN INDEPENDENT STATE ETHICS COMMISSION WITH JURISDICTION TO INVESTIGATE, ADJUDICATE AND ISSUE ADVISORY OPINIONS CONCERNING CIVIL VIOLATIONS OF LAWS GOVERNING ETHICS, STANDARDS OF CONDUCT AND REPORTING REQUIREMENTS AS PROVIDED BY LAW.
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO:
SECTION 1. It is proposed to amend Article 5 of the constitution of New Mexico by adding a new section to read:
“A. The “state ethics commission” is established as an independent state agency under the direction of seven commissioners, no more than three of whom may be members of the same political party, whose terms and qualifications shall be as provided by law. The governor shall appoint one commissioner. One commissioner each shall be appointed by the president pro tempore of the senate, the minority floor leader of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives and the minority floor leader of the house of representatives, all as certified by the chief clerks of the respective chambers. Two commissioners, who shall not be members of the same political party, shall be appointed by the four legislatively appointed commissioners.
1. The state ethics commission may initiate, receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints alleging violations of, and issue advisory opinions concerning, standards of ethical conduct and other standards of conduct and reporting requirements, as may be provided by law, for state officers and employees of the executive and legislative branches of government, candidates or other participants in elections, lobbyists or government contractors or seekers of government contracts and have such other jurisdiction as provided by law.
2. The state ethics commission may require the attendance of witnesses or the production of records and other evidence relevant to an investigation by subpoena as provided by law and shall have such other powers and duties and administer or enforce such other acts as further provided by law.”
SECTION 2. The amendment proposed by this resolution shall be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at the next general election or at any special election prior to that date that may be called for that purpose.
Constitutional Amendment 2 proposes establishing a state ethics commission with authority as provided by law over state officers and employees of the executive and legislative branches; candidates and other participants in elections; lobbyists; government contractors or seekers of government contracts, and possibly other areas. The commission would be empowered to require witnesses to appear or individuals to submit records and relevant evidence. The seven-member commission would also issue advisory opinions concerning standards of ethical conduct.
1. New Mexico’s ethics laws are not coordinated now and are inconsistent across agencies.
Establishment of a state ethics commission could result in a review existing laws governing ethics and help develop more consistent interpretations and more efficient enforcement of those laws.
2. NM is one of only 6 states without a state ethics commission.
Voters and legislators in New Mexico and across the nation recognize the need for a commission dedicated to investigating complaints alleging violations of ethical conduct. The agency could prevent ethical misconduct by providing information and issuing advisory opinions. The legislature would determine how the commission receives and investigates complaints of unethical conduct and the qualifications and duties of the commissioners.
3. Establishing an ethics commission in the Constitution of New Mexico makes it more permanent than if it were created in statute.
Many previous attempts by the legislature to establish a state ethics commission by law have failed because of political differences. Once an ethics commission is approved by voters to be in the Constitution, it would take another constitutional amendment to eliminate it.
1. A constitutional amendment is not necessary to create a state ethics commission. Under existing law, multiple state agencies already have oversight over ethics matters affecting their respective branches of government. Broadening or amending those agencies’ powers or duties to meet any unmet needs might be more efficient than creating another oversight entity.
2. Before the commission could function, the legislature would first have to pass laws granting the commission its powers and duties and setting the qualifications and terms of the commissioners.
3. A state ethics commission could duplicate efforts to combat unethical behavior already prohibited in law and could be costly. There have been several successful prosecutions of public officers and employees for violating laws governing ethical conduct. Improving current laws and enforcement procedures could be accomplished without the expense of creating a whole new agency.