ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Should the public have the right to know how their money is spent when it comes to lawsuits? One lawmaker thinks so, but it will take a change in law to do it.
Sen. Sander Rue says it’s time to end the policy of public money being used to buy silence. He’s introduced a bill that would require all settlements of lawsuits involving public money to be made public much sooner.
Lawsuits, too many to count, have been filed against government agencies. From police departments and school districts to public hospitals — but these lawsuits can be settled secretly. It’s a problem exposed by Larry Barker in 2016.
Sen. Rue thinks it’s time to change that. He’s filed a bill requiring the release of information on settlements involving public money within 30 days on the Sunshine Portal to which everyone has access.
Right now, the public has to wait six months and file an official request which takes weeks to fill. One of the cases the public is still waiting to find out about involves former Moriarty Coach Damien Hyatt, who’s charged with raping students.
Hyatt’s alleged victims have reportedly settled with the district, but no one knows for sure because of a gag order.
If State Police were to settle with Oriana Farrell for the now infamous traffic stop where an officer opened fire on her van with her kids inside, the public would be left in the dark for six months.
Sen. Rue thinks it’s time government agencies think more about how they’re doing their jobs and spending public money than on their image.
“It’s really a question of accountability and transparency,” Sen. Rue said.
It’s not clear if the bill would cover lawsuits that have already been filed or settled.
Sen. Rue has another proposal to open up the books on the governor’s spending. The governor gets what’s called a contingency fund — about $70,000 a year to spend on things like meetings, receptions and banquets. Issues with transparency came to light after Gov. Martinez’s $7,900 Christmas bash and infamous pizza party at the Eldorado back in 2015.
The Republican senator’s bill would open up the fund to audits and more public scrutiny.