The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
New Mexico senators and the lobbyists they work with are calling for changes to the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy to include greater transparency during the investigative process and more clear timelines for how it proceeds.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) is under investigation after a complaint was filed by lobbyist Marianna Anaya alleging that he acted inappropriately, groped her on at least one occasion and then retaliated against her by blocking voting rights legislation she supported.
Ivey-Soto and Anaya are under a strict order of confidentiality while the case remains an active investigation under review by lawmakers.
Neither can give any information on where the process stands, leaving the public in the dark about a process that could lead to the expulsion or suspension of a powerful New Mexico senator.
Ivey-Soto did speak to Source NM broadly about how he would like to see such investigations changed going forward, saying he would support reform efforts if he is still in office for the January 2023 legislative session.
As it stands, the anti-harassment policy outlines that lawmakers, via interim legislative committees, determine probable cause based on an independent investigation.
If the interim committee decides to proceed with a debate on Ivey-Soto’s future, the case file is opened up, and the public will hear details of the investigation for the first time. If his colleagues decide there is no wrongdoing, the case file is tucked away never to see the light of day.
This process is entirely separate from complaints filed with the State Ethics Commission, an independent agency with jurisdiction on matters involving acts related to campaign finance, lobbyist regulation and government conduct.
It does not have any oversight on the anti-harassment policy. Ivey-Soto and advocates calling for his removal share common ground in wanting the commission to take over these cases.
“I think the process can be improved upon,” Ivey-Soto said. “I do think we ought to have at the very least, the option — if not the presumption — that the investigation will be conducted by the State Ethics Commission.”
Sen. Mimi Stewart said the Legislature could begin discussion about how to move the needle on reform during an interim committee meeting scheduled at the end of September. The meeting will be open to the public.
Groups like Common Cause New Mexico said they want to see harassment complaints reviewed by an independent agency, such as the State Ethics Commission — not lawmakers.
And more transparency, advocacy groups are saying, would not only create public confidence in the process but provide more support for survivors speaking up.
“I think that what we’ve seen from this is that there’s not a clear way for harassment or abuse to be reported to Senate leadership or leadership in the Roundhouse,” said Jessie Damazyn with the Center for Civic Policy. “And so I think that there’s sort of a little bit of a lack of a process to begin with.”
Last month, a coalition of advocates and survivors put out a list of demands to Senate leadership calling for the immediate release of the investigative report, the Ethics Commission to be given the go-ahead to oversee the process — and for Ivey-Soto’s removal from interim committees.
In late August, Ivey-Soto still served as the chair on the Finance Authority Oversight Committee and on others. Dozens of lawmakers from both chambers are on the committee, some who might even be responsible for the outcome of the harassment complaint. We won’t know, because the members of the committee determining Ivey-Soto’s fate are not publicly listed.
The coalition was upset that their request to suspend him from the committees went without a response. Damazyn said her group did not hear from Senate leadership. The same goes for Andrea Serrano, executive director at OLÉ, a group that’s been part of the coalition demanding change.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the people who came forward and publicly shared their stories and publicly put themselves out there,” Serrano said. “And it sends a message that despite the investigation, there’s going to be business as usual.”
Stewart, the Senate pro tem, said she did read the letters addressed to her from the coalition and does not have sole authority to remove a senator from a committee position. She said that would have to go through another process.
“I have a committee that I work with, unlike the (House) speaker who does have sole authority. The Senate pro tem does not. I work with the Committee’s Committee,” she said. “And so I may be reaching out to them. It’s too soon yet for me to say. I definitely can say that I am trying to put together a group to rewrite our policies and procedures so that they work better.”
She said she agrees the process should be reformed overall. “We definitely need to review and rewrite these procedures, so there’s more transparency, so that there’s timelines built in and so that we have more help with how it’s conducted,” Stewart said.
Until then, advocacy groups are still preparing for work at the Roundhouse and do what it takes to keep people safe. Lan Sena, with the Center for Civic Policy, said her staff has a safety plan in place to prepare for unwanted interactions or potentially dangerous situations. It’s unfair, she said, but necessary until everyone feels comfortable working in Santa Fe.
“The Roundhouse is the people’s house,” Sena said. “It’s a public place where we can advocate and express our First Amendment rights. Yet we have to tell folks that there are certain members of the Legislature that they cannot be alone in a room with because of the fear for their safety. It’s appalling.”
In response to people making safety plans, Ivey-Soto said if he is still serving office in January, he also plans to institute safeguards in his office “so that I can focus on policy issues and not have to worry about other allegations being made, based upon who I’m working with or not working with.”
“If people are choosing to do safety plans, I don’t aggress that at all,” he said. “And frankly, I’m in the same process of doing safety plans for myself.”
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