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SANTA FE – Just four years after overhauling their sexual harassment policy, New Mexico lawmakers could be poised to retool it once again after a high-profile investigation into whether a Democratic state senator mistreated women at and around the Roundhouse.
While an internal probe into the actions of Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque ended without a public hearing phase or any disciplinary action being recommended by a legislative subcommittee, a coalition of progressive advocacy groups has continued to push for him to be expelled from the Senate.
During a rally Monday outside the state Capitol, about 20 advocates also called for lawmakers to hand off complaints filed under the legislative anti-harassment policy to an outside body – possibly the State Ethics Commission.
Some of them said they have no confidence in the Legislature to protect lobbyists, lawmakers and legislators’ spouses from harassment.
“The toxic culture of the Roundhouse must be changed,” said Lan Sena, a former Albuquerque city councilor who is the policy director for the nonprofit Center for Civic Policy. “The current system only supports the perpetrators.”
However, some leading lawmakers who met later Monday to discuss possible changes to the current policy – last updated in 2018 – indicated they’re not in a rush to relinquish control of complaints filed against legislators.
“I believe wholeheartedly the Legislature should be able to police itself,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of a key House budget committee.
Ultimately, the bipartisan Legislative Council decided Monday to delay a vote on revisions to the anti-harassment policy in order to give members of the panel more time to study proposed changes.
Under one change, a 45-day time limit would be imposed for a legislative ethics subcommittee to determine whether evidence exists to advance a harassment investigation into a lawmaker’s actions to a separate committee that could recommend discipline, though that deadline could be extended.
In addition, the four-member subcommittee would have an additional member – a licensed attorney who has experience with harassment claims – whose presence would ensure committee votes would not fail on a 2-2 tie.
Ivey-Soto, who was not present for the Monday hearing at the Roundhouse, said earlier this month the investigation into a complaint against him had been suspended indefinitely without a determination of probable cause that would trigger public hearings. His attorney, he said, had been notified.
But exactly what happened in the investigation isn’t clear. Ivey-Soto did not waive the confidentiality rules that would allow for documents to be released, and Marianna Anaya, the lobbyist who accused him of groping her at a 2015 hotel reception and more recent abusive behavior, has filed a lawsuit to overturn the secrecy provisions that prevent her from speaking about the case.
Nonetheless, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, announced Saturday she was stripping Ivey-Soto of his chairmanship of a legislative interim committee. She then said a day later she would recommend Ivey-Soto also lose his chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee, a key panel that vets appointees to some high-level state positions and holds confirmation hearings.
During Monday’s meeting, Stewart disputed a suggestion from a Republican senator that the changes to the anti-harassment policy were being pushed due to dissatisfaction with the internal investigation’s outcome.
But she acknowledged the Ivey-Soto investigation was the impetus for the broader discussion, telling the Journal, “It’s all because there wasn’t a resolution.”
For his part, Ivey-Soto said he supports the proposed timeline addition to the anti-harassment policy, but added he’s concerned there’s a push to revise the policy so the complaint against him could be refiled under different rules.
“That’s my concern about the seeming rush to make the change,” he said in an interview after Monday’s meeting.
At least some of the changes to how the Legislature handles harassment complaints will have to wait until the 60-day legislative session begins in January since they are codified in state law, not an adopted policy.
That includes the confidentiality provision that takes effect after a complaint is filed. Some critics have described it as a “gag order.”
While no changes to the anti-harassment policy were adopted Monday, some top-ranking lawmakers said there’s a sense of urgency to make revisions.
“It’s very clear to me the public does not have faith in this process,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “I think bringing a bit of an outside perspective into this is helpful.”