SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — New Mexico’s public records law unconstitutionally restricts the public from using information from public-record databases for “political purpose,” a state lawmaker says, and he’s submitted an amendment.
House Bill 227, by state Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Bernalillo County, cuts two words from the law on the books, New Mexico Statute 14-3-15.1. That law states, in part: “The state agency that has inserted data in a database may authorize a copy to be made of a computer tape or other medium containing a computerized database of a public record for any person if the person agrees … not to use the database for any political or commercial purpose unless the purpose and use is approved in writing by the state agency that created the database.”
McQueen’s amendment removes the words “political or” from the passage.
The bill passed through the House State Government, Indian & Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday and sent to the House Judiciary Committee.
Passage may not be so simple, McQueen told Courthouse News.
“I set out to do something very simple, and it’s becoming … not simple,” he said.
“That one word is pretty clearly unconstitutional. I think people are willing to fix that. It’s just that I’ve gotten into this swampy area.”
McQueen said he’s been told that implementing the amendment might cost up to $1.2 million, though he’s unclear where that number came from, or what would be so expensive about simply allowing people to use the same information they are allowed to request for non-political purposes without a restriction of intent.
Others think the bill doesn’t go far enough. Peter St. Cyr, director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said in an interview: “We think that there needs to be even more work to be done on these database records. There’s often claims that this data is proprietary. We contend that it’s the public’s data.”
St. Cyr’s group does support the bill, though. “We think that it’s a great step, because this is a public record and how it’s used by anybody is not the government’s concern,” St. Cyr said.
In that, at least, the group and Rep. McQueen are in agreement. McQueen stated bluntly: “I don’t think the current restriction would withstand judicial scrutiny, but we shouldn’t make people go to court to defend their constitutional rights.”