Attorney general won’t push to open key meetings

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

When several reform-minded legislators were elected last year — and several old-guard lawmakers lost — many open-government advocates thought there was a good chance of finally opening up what has been called the “last bastion of secrecy” in the Legislature: conference committees.

The public has long been barred from conference committee meetings at which small groups of House and Senate members hammer out the final language of legislation before it’s sent to the governor.

But that optimism about ending the closed-door sessions recently has been dampened by lack of support from a high-profile official: Attorney General Gary King.

Although King has been a long-time advocate of open government, he said in an interview Wednesday: “I’m not in favor of a blanket rule that conference committees have to be open all the time. There are times when it’s appropriate to have closed meetings.”

This is the same official whose office has held workshops across the state informing city, county and state officials about the state Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act.

“I’m in favor of openness,” said King, who served as a state representative from Stanley for a dozen years. “But the public also is served by a process that gets you to a conclusion.” Keeping conference committees closed helps speed up the legislative process, he said.