NM Sen. Ivey-Soto likely to be removed from prominent committee when 2023 Legislature begins
Lawmakers to attempt to amend anti-harassment policy soon
Lawmakers meet in the Roundhouse on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, to weigh changes to the anti-harassment policy in the wake of misconduct allegations and an investigation about state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
Almost a year after New Mexico Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto was accused of sexual harassment, he’s set to lose his position on the Senate Rules Committee when the 2023 Legislature begins Jan. 17.
On Thursday, the Senate Committees’ Committee did something unusual — it met outside of the regular Legislature calendar to quickly rearrange legislators’ positions on various standing committees.
This meeting came about 10 months after a lobbyist filed accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) back in February. Multiple other women came forward with similar stories in the months following.
The investigation into the accusations against Ivey-Soto was kept private, though a leaked copy of a report showed that an investigator found probable cause that at least two instances of the senator’s conduct violated the anti-harassment policy.
He’s fallen from positions of power as a lawmaker since and continues to be moved around, with this most recent move to get him off the influential Rules Committee — a committee he used to chair.
The Committees’ Committee passed an approval for Ivey-Soto to be removed from his Rules seat, an important commission that decides priority and scheduling aspects of bills during the legislative session, and moved him to the Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs Committee.
The Committees’ Committee only has three Republican members, and two of them objected to Ivey-Soto’s removal — Gregory Baca (R-Belen) and Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho).
The Senate will need to pass this again when the session starts in January for it to immediately take effect.
Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) said the meeting was convened in order to get organized and prepare to hire new staff in time for the Legislature. In an interview with SourceNM afterward, she said that removing Ivey-Soto from the Rules Commission and general meeting overall doesn’t have a direct connection with the misconduct accusations.
“We already dealt with that. We dealt with that weeks ago. We were going to have a Committees’ Committee to remove him, but he resigned himself,” she said. “So that’s already been done. That’s not why this committee met today.”
Stewart said that at her request, Ivey-Soto’s already stepped down as chair of the Senate Rules Committee and chair of the interim New Mexico Finance Authority committee.
Now to serve on the Rules Committee, if approved in January, are Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque) as chair, Sen. Brenda McKenna (D-Corrales) and Sen. Liz Stefanics (D-Cerrillos). Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) will be removed along with Ivey-Soto.
There have also been public calls to remove Ivey-Soto from the Senate altogether. Stewart declined to comment on that topic.
The other committees he’s on
Ivey-Soto also serves on the Senate Judiciary and four interim committees — Courts, Corrections and Justice, Capitol Security, Investments and Pensions Oversight, and New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight.
Mario Jimenez is the director of New Mexico’s Common Cause division, a voting rights organization that sends lobbyists to the Roundhouse. He pointed out that Ivey-Soto is still a state senator with constituents to serve and said he hopes Ivey-Soto’s good faith efforts, like the previous resignations, continue.
“I think it’s pretty clear that he too would like to see a resolution,” he said.
Updating the anti-harassment policy
Ivey-Soto’s harassment investigation seemingly prompted an initiative to update the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy, though there have been some delays. Stewart said lawmakers will attempt to amend the policy on Monday, Dec. 12 at the Legislative Council meeting.
Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales) drafted additional details about lodging complaints against members of the Legislature, which is what the lawmakers will be reviewing and deciding on.
The proposed changes would help decide on tied votes by adding more voting members to different committees. It would also add a timeline to the process, ensuring that investigative reports are submitted within 45 days to lawmakers and special counsel, who would determine if there’s probable cause behind complaints.
If there’s no probable cause on a complaint, it would be dropped and a public report would be published. If there is, a formal hearing would convene within 45 days and an ethics subcommittee would make a decision.
The potential changes
The drafted policy, if adopted, would add a few new rules to the procedures that would occur if anyone in the Legislature is accused of violations of the anti-harassment policy. The changes are:
- Special outside counsel — experienced in discrimination law, not just employee law — and legislative leaders would determine if a complaint needs to be looked into by an investigative subcommittee
- An independent, licensed attorney with experience in harassment claims would become chair and a voting member of the investigative subcommittee
- Special counsel investigating the complaint would submit a report to the investigative subcommittee within 45 days of being hired. If that’s not possible, the counsel would keep all parties informed of how much more time is needed with updates every 15 days
- The investigation would be closed if the ethics subcommittee decides there’s no probable cause, and an interim ethics committee would publish a public report on the decision within 10 days
- If the ethics subcommittee decides there is probable cause, the standing committee would decide on the matter during the Legislature. Otherwise, an interim committee would set a formal hearing within 45 days, unless there’s evidence showing the need to extend that. An independent attorney, retired judge or justice would serve as chair and a voting member of the hearing committee
- Any ethics committees still have to follow the rules of the respective legislative standing committees
These changes are something that will affect both the state House and Senate, Jimenez said, and legislators need to rebuild trust with the public.
Jimenez said future investigations need to be more transparent. But still, the newly drafted rules wouldn’t require any public disclosure unless a case is closed with no probable cause.
“Whenever meetings are being held behind closed doors, in secret, it leads to questions and quite often leads to assumptions,” he said, “and, as a result, a loss of trust in those who are making these calls and these important decisions that are going to be affecting the general public.”
This story was updated on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022 at 5:45 p.m. to correctly reflect that the investigation’s leaked report found probable cause that at least two instances of Ivey-Soto’s conduct violated the policy.
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