The state Senate’s unanimous support last week of legislation that would make the state’s out-of-court settlements more transparent is an encouraging step forward for New Mexicans who want to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and the state House must not let this good-government bill die before the end of the legislative session next week.
For far too long, out-of-court settlements between plaintiffs and the state General Services Department’s Risk Management Division have been subject to a gag order of at least six months. The out-of-court settlements contain allegations against public officials – and/or the agencies they worked for – of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, personal injury, wrongful death and other claims.
One such example was Alisha Tafoya Lucero. About a month after her appointment as secretary of the New Mexico Corrections Department in June 2019, Tafoya Lucero signed a $195,000 settlement with the state to resolve a 2013 lawsuit she had filed against the Corrections Department.
Tafoya Lucero, a deputy warden seven years ago, said she was paid far less than a male colleague with the same title and accused the Corrections Department of violating state law requiring fair pay for women. The deal between a Cabinet secretary and the department she runs wasn’t revealed until last week, after the expiration of a six-month confidentiality period imposed by the current state law.