Legislative watchdogs

Assistant City Clerk Claire Burroughes monitors New Mexico state legislative activity on the Internet on Thursday in her office at City Hall. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

While state legislators battle over the many thousands of bills scheduled to be introduced in the 47th Legislature, those with an active interest in the outcome of the discussions are often left in the dark.

The number of bills passing through both houses each day is mind-boggling, officials say. And those peering in from the outside are faced with the daunting task of trying to figure out what is going on. But advances in Internet technology and private enterprise are starting to bridge the gap for local officials.

Assistant City Clerk Claire Burroughes said the city uses the New Mexico Legislature Web site and takes information from the New Mexico Municipal League to keep up with legislation that could effect the city. Besides that, the city has contacts in the capitol following legislation to do with chamber issues and other projects, she said.

The New Mexico Legislative Report, which has produced legislation analysis since the early 1980s, employs a number of lawyers and analysts to provide concise summaries of the legislation to subscribers.

In recent years the company has offered an Internet-based database that can track a bill from its introduction to when it is signed by the governor, and every step in between. Users can select key words for the computer system to track in the proposed legislation. The system will tag those terms and alert local officials via e-mail when those topics come up.

The system also allows users to look up legislators and see how they voted on various issues.

Curry County Indigent Administrator Lance Pyle said the county used the New Mexico Legislative Report last year and is seriously considering buying the service again. He said the New Mexico Association of Counties negotiated a $1,000 rate for the program, a price he said is well worth the benefits.

“I found it very helpful utilizing it,” he said.

He said the county received five passwords and user names for the price last year. That means five different departments had access to the site and could track legislation affecting their agendas, he said.

The program even had a feature in which the user could listen to the legislative session live, Pyle said. If county officials heard something of concern, they could call area legislators in Santa Fe and ask them to take action.

Clovis schools board member Lora Harlan said tracking software and similar Web sites are important to keep up with the deluge of information coming out of a legislative session.

“The Legislature has many bills that directly impact how school will be run and the finances that we get for the schools,” she said. “I think it is very important that school board members keep up with those bills and visit with local legislators.”

She said the New Mexico Public Education Department has legislative updates during the session, including analysis and information on the governor’s actions on bills. Users of the Web site can also search by House bill, Senate bill, joint resolutions and bill analysis in the free service.

Tasia Young, legislative liaison for New Mexico Association of Counties, said the New Mexico Legislative Report has been very helpful for her.

“There is no way I could read and understand all those bills,” Young said.