State Sen. Linda Lopez and Rep. Daymon Ely present proposals to reform the Roundhouse ant-harassment policy during a Legislative Council committee meeting Monday Sept. 26, 2022. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
New Mexico legislators have two weeks to review proposals to change the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy to include an outside tie-breaker vote and clearer timelines to speed up investigations.
Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales) introduced changes to the policy during a Legislative Council Committee hearing on Monday. While the committee did not directly address the recent allegations of harassment filed against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque), how the investigation unfolded was an elephant in the room.
“We have recently gone through this process, and it has problems,” Lopez told colleagues. “And I think for us to really have a better process or system, we do need to streamline or make some changes.”
Ivey-Soto was accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by a lobbyist he’s known for years. The matter was handled beyond the public’s view, but a leaked copy of the independent investigator’s report said there was sufficient evidence for two of three claims that he violated the Roundhouse’s anti-harassment policy.
While lawmakers said they want to open the process, that cannot happen until January, because it would require a change in statute.
The proposals from Ely and Lopez, on the other hand, could be adopted now by the committee.
But Ely’s call to approve the changes during Monday’s meeting was thwarted by concerns from Republicans that the policy was added to the agenda last week and that the proposed changes were only made public Monday morning.
The committee ultimately decided to postpone taking action until their next public meeting on Oct. 11.
Because the proposals do not require a change in law, the policy can be reformed immediately. That include setting a deadline of 45 days for an independent special counsel to complete an investigation. As the policy stands now, there are no specific deadlines for how long the investigative process can last.
If the investigation cannot be completed within 45 days, the investigator must give status updates to the legislative committee every 15 days until it is finished, according to the proposal.
Another substantial change would be the addition of a fifth voting member on the subcommittee, a licensed attorney who has “experience with harassment claims and is without any current or previous involvement with the matter.”
Currently the subcommittee is made up of four legislators, split between two parties. The independent voting member would come in to fix the issues that arise when the subcommittee deadlocks in a tie.
Although the public does not know if the complaint against Ivey-Soto stalled because of a split vote, legislators said it is obvious that came up in the most recent case.
Ely said he read an opinion article Ivey-Soto published in the Albuquerque Journal claiming the process was over, and he understood there was a tie in the proceeding even though that has not been explicitly stated by anyone involved in the matter.
“The language that he used in the discussion was very careful to where I could draw the conclusion there was a tie. And the public doesn’t know that,” Ely said. “The public doesn’t know what’s happening, and that is not sustainable because it shows the Legislature cannot police itself.”
Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) co-chairs the Legislative Council Committee and said changes need to be made.
“I think most of us understand that we’re not doing right by victims right now. And we have to change our policy,” she said. “I think they’ve brought forward a really good idea. I hope we adopt it in two weeks or some variation.”
While Ivey-Soto’s name was not said during the meeting, the complaint against him was an unspoken presence in the room.
Over the weekend, Stewart announced that she removed the senator as chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority interim committee, which was also scheduled to meet Monday in Silver City but canceled because not enough legislators were present.
In a statement, Stewart said due to the allegations against Ivey-Soto it’s “inappropriate for him to remain in a position of authority until the allegations are fully, fairly and transparently resolved.”
Stewart said she cannot remove him from his chairman position on Senate Rules until the full Legislature meets to determine committee assignments.
As to Ivey-Soto’s announcement that the investigation into his alleged misconduct at the Roundhouse is over, Stewart would not elaborate on whether there is any other avenue for the investigation to continue or be refiled.
During Monday’s meeting, Ely and Lopez each said there are no active cases related to the anti-harassment policy referred to a committee right now, indicating the Ivey-Soto ordeal is likely done.
Advocates that have been calling for Ivey-Soto’s resignation and greater accountability in the process that investigates lawmakers accused of harassment said the proposed changes are a necessary step. However, their calls to give more authority to an independent body, such as the state Ethics Commission, may go unresolved with the reform proposals on the table.
“We have been saying that this process has been flawed. We have been saying that the Legislature, the Roundhouse, the people’s house, is not safe,” said Lan Sena, director of the Center for Civic Policy. “It has not been safe, it is not safe, and will continue to not be safe, unless they push for this independent process.”
Sena said she was pleased to know Ivey-Soto was removed from one chairman position but wants more.
“The nine women that have come forward shows that he does not deserve to be in this house,” Sena said. “He does not deserve to be in the position of a senator, and it’s shown that he has abused that power.”
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