N.M. to require agencies to provide electronic records

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new law will require New Mexico government agencies to provide public records electronically if the records exist in digital form.

The measure, which passed both the House and Senate unanimously, goes into effect July 1. Gov. Susana Martinez signed it into law on April 8.

The bill's sponsors said they and their constituents had problems in the past with some agencies or departments not wanting to send records in an e-mail or download them to a CD.

Paper records are costlier and less convenient to use, said Democratic state Sen. Stephen Fischmann of Mesilla Park, who sponsored the measure in that chamber.

“A lot of departments, if they don't want you to know something they make it difficult,” he said.

Before winning election to the Senate in 2008, Fischmann said he'd requested records from state government agencies that insisted on sending paper records.

“If these records are sitting there on someone's PC, why couldn't they e-mail it to me if it was a public record?” he said.

After he got into office, he began getting calls from constituents complaining that rather than sending electronic records, counties were making them pay 50 cents to $1 a page for copies.

The law requires governments to give people records for no more than the actual cost.

For example, an agency that copies an electronic record to a CD or flash drive can charge postage for sending it and the cost of the CD or flash drive, Fischmann said.

Democratic state Rep. Eleanor Chavez of Albuquerque, who sponsored the measure in the House, says she expects electronic records to be “way less than a dollar a page.”

Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the foundation found many agencies were contending they did not have to provide records electronically. Instead, they were charging to print documents or telling people they could come to the agency's office to view records during business hours.

Other agencies were providing electronic records, but were charging the same per-page cost as for paper copies, she said.

It takes a negligible amount of time to attach an electronic record to an e-mail compared to having someone stand at a copier making copies, Welsh said.

“It's easier and cheaper to transmit things electronically,” she said.

The new law does not require agencies to put a record into an electronic format if it's not already in that form, Chavez and Fischmann said.

“It does not require the creation of whole new records,” Fischmann said. “It says if you have this information and you have it in X format, you're required to send it in that format.”

Martinez also signed a measure that ensures the state's largest budget item, public education, will be detailed on New Mexico's sunshine portal. The measure requires all school districts to send certain financial information electronically to the state Public Education Department, which will post it. The information has to be online by Oct. 1, 2012.