The House has approved a proposal for establishing an independent Public Defender Department in state government.
The proposal cleared the House on a 42-27 vote on Wednesday and is needed to implement a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year.
The governor currently names the state's public defender to manage the agency that provides lawyers to represent criminal defendants unable to afford an attorney.
The legislation creates an 11-member commission to oversee the agency and hire the chief public defender. Commissioners also could fire the public defender.
The governor would name only one commission member and others would be selected by legislative leaders, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and dean of the University of New Mexico law school.
The proposal goes to the Senate for consideration.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.