The rotunda’s anti-harassment policy needs reform
This story was originally published by Source New Mexico.
New Mexico senators and the lobbyists they work with are calling for changes to Roundhouse’s anti-harassment policy to include greater transparency during the investigative process and clearer timelines for it to occur.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) is under investigation after a complaint was filed by lobbyist Marianna Anaya alleging he acted inappropriately, groped her at least one occasion and then retaliated against her by blocking the suffrage legislation she supported.
Ivey-Soto and Anaya are under a strict confidentiality order while the case remains an active investigation under review by lawmakers.
Neither can give information on the status of the process, 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 spoke extensively to Source NM about how he would like these inquiries to change in the future, saying he would support reform efforts if he were still in office for the January 2023 legislative session.
As it stands, the anti-harassment policy states that lawmakers, through interim legislative committees, determine probable cause based on an independent investigation.
If the interim committee decides to proceed with a debate on the future of Ivey-Soto, the case is open and the public will hear the details of the investigation for the first time. If his colleagues decide that there is no wrongdoing, the file is put 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 over matters involving acts related to campaign finance, regulation of lobbyists and government conduct.
It has no control over the anti-harassment policy. Ivey-Soto and advocates calling for his removal share common ground in wanting the commission to take on those cases.
“I think the process can be improved,” Ivey-Soto said. “I think we should at least have the option – if not the presumption – that the investigation will be conducted by the State Ethics Commission.”
Senator Mimi Stewart said the Legislative Assembly could begin a discussion on how to move forward with reform at an interim committee meeting scheduled for late September. The meeting will be open to the public.
Groups like Common Cause New Mexico have 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 say, would not only build public confidence in the process, but provide more support for survivors who speak out.
“I think what we’ve seen is that there’s no clear way to report harassment or abuse to Senate leadership or Roundhouse leadership,” said Jessie Damazyn of the Center for Civic Policy. “And so I think there’s kind of a little lack of process to begin with.”
Last month, a coalition of lawyers and survivors presented a list of demands to the Senate leadership calling for the immediate release of the investigation report, to the Ethics Committee to be given the green light to oversee the process – and the removal of Ivey-Soto from interim commissions.
At the end of August, Ivey-Soto was still chairman of the supervisory committee of the financial authority and others. Dozens of lawmakers from both houses sit on the committee, some of whom may 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 unanswered. Damazyn said his group had not heard of the Senate leadership. The same goes for Andrea Serrano, deputy director of OLÉ, a group that was part of the coalition demanding change.
“I think it’s disrespectful to people who have come forward and publicly shared their stories and publicly exposed themselves,” Serrano said. “And it sends the message that despite the investigation, business will continue as usual.”
Stewart, the Senate interim, said she had read letters to her from the coalition and did not have exclusive authority to remove a senator from a position on a committee. She said that would have to go through another process.
“I have a committee that I work with, unlike the Speaker (of the House) who has exclusive power. The Provisional Senate does not. I work with the Committee of the Committee,” she said. “And so maybe I’ll reach out to them.” It is still too early for me to say. I can definitely say that I’m trying to get a group together to rewrite our policies and procedures to make them work better.
She said she agreed the whole process should be reformed. “We definitely need to review and rewrite these procedures, so there’s more transparency, there are timelines built in, and we have more help on how this is being conducted,” Stewart said.
Until then, advocacy groups are still preparing to work at the Roundhouse and doing what it takes to keep people safe. Lan Sena of the Center for Civic Policy said his staff had a safety plan in place to prepare for unwanted interactions or potentially dangerous situations. It’s unfair, she says, 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 defend and express our First Amendment rights. Yet we have to tell people that there are some members of the Legislative Assembly that they cannot be alone in a room with because they fear for their safety. It’s appalling.
In response to people making security plans, Ivey-Soto said that while he was still in office in January, he also planned to institute safeguards in his office “so that I can focus on political issues and not having to worry about other allegations, depending on who I work with or not.
“If people choose to make security plans, I’m not aggressive at all,” he said. “And frankly, I’m in the same process of making safety plans for myself.”
Shaun Griswold is a reporter for Source New Mexico.