A bill that seeks to clarify the Governmental Conduct Act and increase possible penalties for violation of the law passed its first community unanimously.
HB 8 would provide a new section to the law defining intent, provide specific guidance to public officers and employees about prohibited acts, clarify provisions prohibiting abuse of office, quid pro quo corruption, acquisition of financial interests resulting from an official act, and misuse of public property.
It also seeks to update the civil penalty for violating the GCA to a fine of up to $10,000 from a $250 fine per violation up to $5,000. The last time the GCA civil penalty was updated was in 1993.
This means that if a person violates the GCA the fine could be anywhere from $1 to $10,000 in penalties.
“(The bill) really reflects what the (State Ethics) Commission and the Attorney General’s Office has learned about how this country works over the past four years and how we think that it can respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on State vs Gutierrez, which limited the effectiveness of our state’s government,” New Mexico State Ethics Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said.
Farris served as an expert witness for bill sponsor Rep. Kathleen Cates, D-Rio Rancho.
The bill is related to the State v. Gutierrez state Supreme Court case that barred parts of the Act from being enforced.
HB 8 addresses the issues raised in the Gutierrez case to “make the Act clearer, fairer, and better attuned to its purpose to ensure that individuals working in government in New Mexico use the powers and property of their government offices not to benefit themselves, but only to benefit the public,” the bill’s fiscal impact report states.
The New Mexico Department of Justice, formerly known as the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, agrees that the GCA needs to be revised following the Gutierrez decision due to the prohibitions of the GCA “could not be enforced as they fail to give sufficient notice of the acts being prohibitive, the fiscal impact report states.
Prohibited acts include engaging in political activities while on duty, in a government office, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or while using a government vehicle except when state law enforcement officers are providing security to an elected state-wide official.
“The overarching purpose of this statute is to ensure that government officials and authorities use their resources and powers for the public interest,” Farris said.
The bill goes to the House Judiciary Committee next.
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