New Mexico Legislature Tables Good FOI Bill…

The hits just keep coming, people…

Representative Joseph Cervantes’ bill to ensure fair and equal access to public databases was derailed Monday morning by opposition from the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee tabled HB 406 by a 9-5 vote, effectively killing the bill. Representatives Conrad James, Patricia Lundstrom, James Smith, Don Tripp and Jeannette Wallace voted to keep the bill alive.[1]

The Department opposed the bill because it would have interfered with an estimated $6.3 million in annual royalties from motor-vehicle data.

“It is disappointing to have a state agency selling access to public records as a way to generate profits for that agency, and profits for others brokering the sale,” Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) said.

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh, whose organization drafted the bill, echoed those sentiments.

“I am disappointed that an idea with broad bipartisan support is being held hostage to one agency’s profit-making scheme,” Welsh said. “My hope is that in the coming year, we can resolve that issue and move forward with bringing the open-data movement to New Mexico.”

HB 406 was co-sponsored by Representatives Thomas Taylor, Al Park, Bill O’Neill, Nate Gentry and Jim Trujillo. It sought to repeal broad and unconstitutional restrictions on all state databases. It would have provided that public databases would be available to any person requesting them, at actual cost and in any existing or readily convertible format. Databases subject to privacy protections, such as the state motor-vehicle database, would be provided to any qualified entity on fair and equal terms and at actual cost.

The cost provision triggered strong opposition from the Taxation and Revenue Department. Newly confirmed Department Secretary Demesia Padilla testified Monday that selling motor-vehicle records at a profit provides a vital source of funding for special projects within the Motor Vehicle Division.

Currently, MVD’s electronic database of driver records is sold exclusively to a Kansas company, which enjoys a monopoly on re-selling the data to other companies. The exclusive contract was awarded in 2009 under former governor Bill Richardson’s administration, despite heavy criticism that the procurement process was slanted in favor of the winning company.

While admitting that the request for proposals may have been ‘too restrictive,’ Padilla told the Committee that the contract generates roughly $6 million for MVD programs. If that revenue stream were eliminated, the money would have to be appropriated from the state’s general fund in 2012, Padilla said.

“It’s one thing to talk about ending the sale of access in Santa Fe, but it’s another thing to actually turn away the money,” Cervantes said.

Welsh said the underlying policy is flawed no matter how much money is generated or for what purpose.

“I don’t doubt that the government can make a lot of money by selling its records,” Welsh said. “But the public owns those records, and it shouldn’t have to pay for them twice. FOG objects when public agencies try to charge a dollar per page for paper copies, and we object when data is sold for a profit. And we particularly object to existing law that allows the government to approve or deny requests for data based on the commercial or political purpose of the requester. This bill would have fixed that.”

HB 406 was originally assigned to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee; it was approved unanimously in each committee. Welsh said despite this setback, FOG will continue to advocate both in and out of legislative sessions for fair and equal access to databases.




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