Snow fell in Santa Fe on Dec. 12, 2022. Inside lawmakers made changes to the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
New Mexico lawmakers from both political parties had a heated debate Monday before approving changes to the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy in the wake of an investigation into allegations against a prominent state senator this year.
Outgoing Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Albuquerque) took a third swing at changing the policy to open up a secretive process, add independent members to the committee that investigates these claims, and create a way to break a tie vote on whether an inquiry should move forward.
The Legislative Council, a subcommittee composed of legislators from both parties in the House and Senate, voted 9-7 to adopt the changes. Rep. Patty Lundstrum from Gallup was the lone Democrat to vote against the policy changes, which she did without comment.
The changes to the anti-harassment policy take effect immediately. They include a requirement that the four-person committee hire an outside attorney with experience in harassment law to be a potentially tie-breaking vote. But Ely pointed out the committee can still deadlock if it doesn’t approve the independent fifth member.
The policy also requires a 45-day deadline for an investigative report to be filed and that the parties involved are notified if there is a delay.
If a case is complete and dismissed, the committee must have the independent report on the investigation released to the public within 10-days.
The call for this reform came as Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) was investigated after harassment complaints were filed by a lobbyist in late February.
The independent investigator found probable cause that Ivey-Soto violated the anti-harassment policy twice, according to a leaked report.
During Monday’s council meeting a lawmaker on the panel confirmed the investigation was halted on a 2-2 tie vote back in September.
Two Republicans voted to stop the investigation and two Democrats voted to keep it going, according to Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque).
“This was an internal Democratic caucus fight,” Moores said during Monday’s committee hearing. “What’s ironic is that Democrats couldn’t get a Republican to vote against a Democrat.”
Moores sat on the board, and with his statement confirmed he voted to end the investigation despite the investigator finding grounds to suspect that Ivey-Soto violated the anti-harassment policy at least twice.
After his statements Monday, Moores also voted against changing the anti-harassment policy.
No Republican voted for the policy changes and instead directed their frustration to the lack of investigation into how the report was leaked to the press.
Without the leak, the public would have no idea about the process or the investigator’s findings — or that Ivey-Soto was allowed to move on without penalty.
“We should’ve voted to hire an investigator to find the leak,” Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) said. “There are only four on the committee. It shouldn’t be hard. Yet, we’ve decided as a group to do nothing about that and instead try to change the policy.”
The Legislative Council affirmed there is no intention to launch a leak investigation.
The next step in reforming the harassment complaint process will come in January when the Legislature meets for a 60-day session in Santa Fe.
While these policy issues could be addressed by the committee, another problem exposed by this case would require a change to state statute and so must be handled by the full Legislature.
When a harassment or misconduct complaint in the Roundhouse is being investigated, the people involved are subject to strict confidentiality requirements and barred from talking about the case. Lobbyist Marianna Anaya said she’d been silenced ever since she embarked on the formal process of bringing allegations against Ivey-Soto.
She released a letter outlining the accusations as the complaint was filed in March but hasn’t spoken about the case since.
Her lawyer filed a lawsuit in a Santa Fe District Court arguing the confidentiality requirement violates Anaya’s First Amendment rights.
The case was set for a hearing on Dec. 15, but Anaya’s lawyer asked to cancel it. The court granted the request, so arguments will not be heard in court in the near future.
Ely said lawmakers must take on the confidentiality issue.
“Today is the first step. It’s just a step, but it’s starting,” Ely said. “The Legislature in the 60-day session has to finish the job.”
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