A proposal to establish an independent Public Defender Department in state government is heading to the House for consideration.
The measure will implement a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year.
Currently the governor appoints the state's public defender, who manages the department. Public defenders represent criminal defendants who can't afford a lawyer.
The legislation creates an 11-member commission to oversee the agency and hire the chief public defender. Commissioners could fire the public defender only for certain reasons, including incompetence and wrongdoing.
Commission members would be appointed by the governor, legislative leaders, chief justice of the Supreme Court and dean of the University of New Mexico law school.
The legislation cleared a final House committee on Friday.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.