NM lawmakers to weigh harassment investigations in the Roundhouse next week

On the table: confidentiality rules and how to break a tie vote, representative says

By: - September 21, 2022 5:52 am

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Getty Images)

The harassment complaint filed against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto might’ve stalled, but the effort to reform how these things play out could be starting soon.

Next week, legislators will be in Santa Fe for a public meeting of the interim Legislative Council Committee, composed of 36 elected officials from the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Rep. Damyon Ely (D-Corrales) said he is preparing a presentation for that meeting addressing several problems with the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy, and that could start discussion of adding transparency to the secret investigatory process and granting people who file accusations the opportunity to talk publicly.

A lobbyist pushing for an expansion of voting rights this year brought a complaint against Ivey-Soto of sexual harassment, groping and bullying shortly after the session concluded. Others came forward publicly with similar stories. The case is apparently over, but little is known about what the panel of lawmakers considering the matter debated or decided, and why.

NM senator defends his reputation while policy silences the people accusing him of misconduct

Ely said he does not have specific insight into how the four-person panel of Ivey-Soto’s peers voted after they were presented with the findings of an independent investigator, “but just reading between the lines, I can guess what happened,” he said. 

So he is drafting one proposal that could have an immediate effect — changing how a legislative panel examining harassment cases handles a tie. As it stands, the anti-harassment policy allows investigations to cease if the lawmakers weighing a complaint cannot break a tie vote.

“I knew this was a problem and that this has been around a while,” he said, “and it just needs to change.”

There has to be a way to break a tie, Ely said. He couldn’t offer more details on his proposal yet, he said.

The Legislative Council Committee can make this change without a full legislative process — where bills are introduced, go to committees, get voted on and then require a governor’s signature — because it would alter policy and not law, according to Ely.

Roundhouse anti-harassment policy needs reform, advocates and senators agree

Last week, Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) wrote a column in the Albuquerque Journal announcing the investigation was over. This is where Ely first learned about the conclusion of the case, he said — and the message Ivey-Soto was truly sharing.

“When he said they didn’t find probable cause, that’s a term of art,” Ely said. And the way Ivey-Soto phrased it told Ely, “they didn’t make a finding, period.”

Because the votes are confidential, there is no way to verify that the complaint against Ivey-Soto stalled out because of a tie vote. In fact, the public only knows who was on the panel — two Democrats and two Republicans — because a copy of the investigator’s report was leaked to the press. 

So far, no one involved except for Ivey-Soto has been able to speak about the case publicly. 

That’s something Ely and others would like to see fixed.

Confidentiality is written into state law, so this change would have to go through the full legislative process after the session begins in January. Such a bill might also have to pass through the Senate Rules Committee, where Ivey-Soto is the chair.

In the meantime, Marianna Anaya, the lobbyist who brought the complaint, filed a lawsuit arguing that her First Amendment rights were violated because the confidentiality clause in the anti-harassment policy barred her from speaking publicly about her case.

When she first filed the complaint, she did write a letter detailing harassment she said she endured for years while interacting with Ivey-Soto. Those incidents were verified in the leaked investigator’s report, which also said there was sufficient evidence that Ivey-Soto violated the harassment policy twice.

The Legislative Council Committee meets Monday, Sept. 26 at 1:30 p.m. in the Roundhouse. Interim meetings at the capital are usually live-streamed. 

Unlike the process outlined in the anti-harassment policy, it is open to the public.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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