Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Legislative leaders in New Mexico narrowly agreed Monday to reshape how sexual harassment investigations are conducted at the Roundhouse – a move intended to make it more difficult for inquiries to die on a tie vote.
The new policy adds an outside attorney to a key panel that investigates harassment complaints lodged against lawmakers, putting the lawyer in position to cast a tie-breaking vote on whether a case moves forward.
The five-person group will now include two Democratic lawmakers, two Republican lawmakers and a fifth person – a lawyer who isn’t a member of the Legislature.
Under Monday’s changes, the policy also includes deadlines intended to keep harassment complaints from lingering in a secretive process without public resolution.
The change comes after a high-profile harassment case against Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque ended without the investigative subcommittee issuing a public determination of whether probable cause was found.
Ivey-Soto denied the allegations.
The panel deadlocked on a 2-2 vote in the Ivey-Soto complaint, Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque said Monday, with the Democrats voting to move forward with probable cause and the GOP members voting against it.
Moores suggested the tie vote wasn’t a problem. The system, he said, has ensured a charge won’t move forward unless there’s at least some bipartisan support.
“This was an internal Democratic caucus fight,” Moores said of the Ivey-Soto complaint. “The investigation couldn’t get a Republican to vote against a Democrat. That’s why it ended up 2-2.”
But Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, said tie votes mean no public finding is issued, leaving the public and the person who levied the allegations in the dark about what happened.
Investigative subcommittees meet in secret, and their findings are only public if there’s a probable-cause determination. It makes sense, then, to add a tie-breaker to the process, Ely said.
“This is wrong,” he said, “and it’s something that can be addressed. This is the way to do it.”
He and Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, co-sponsored the policy change.
It was adopted on a 9-7 vote by the Legislative Council, a panel of high-ranking legislative leaders. It meets between sessions and is empowered to set the anti-harassment policy.
All Democrats present voted in favor of the bill, except Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who joined with Republicans to oppose the changes.
A similar policy change proposed two months ago failed – coincidentally – on a tie vote.
In the wake of the investigation, Ivey-Soto resigned under pressure as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. He denied the allegations but said he didn’t want to be a distraction.
He has rebuffed calls from some advocacy groups to resign his Senate seat.
A lobbyist earlier this year accused Ivey-Soto of sexual harassment and abusive behavior in a complaint filed with legislative staff. A month later, a coalition of advocacy groups accused Ivey-Soto of a pattern of abusive behavior against women.
Ivey-Soto said his attorney was later notified that the investigation into the harassment complaint had been suspended indefinitely – with no determination of probable cause by an investigative subcommittee that would trigger public hearings and potentially discipline.
Lawmakers in the 2023 session are also planning to consider changing state law to remove a confidentiality provision that prevents someone who files a complaint from speaking about it.