Legislators take aim at secrecy rule in harassment complaints - Albuquerque Journal

Legislators take aim at secrecy rule in harassment complaints

The Roundhouse last month. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Legislators on Wednesday took a step toward ending the one-sided confidentiality law that keeps people who file a harassment complaint at the Roundhouse from speaking about their case.

Under the current system, a legislator accused of harassment is free to comment in public, but the person who lodged the complaint cannot, unless there’s a finding of probable cause after an investigation.

Lobbyist Marianna Anaya — who accused a prominent state senator last year of sexual harassment and abusive behavior — served as an expert witness on the proposal, House Bill 169. She didn’t speak about the case during Wednesday’s hearing.

Focusing on the law itself, Anaya said the secrecy provision could interfere with a person’s ability to speak to family members and seek out other support.

“If you take look at the language,” she said, “the gag order has no limits. … What happens when people can’t access the resources they need to get through this process?”

State law now prohibits the person who files a complaint, the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee and its staff from publicly disclosing “any information relating to the filing or investigation of a complaint, including the identity of the complainant or respondent,” unless probable cause is found.

The proposal before lawmakers would remove the prohibition on the person who files a complaint but leave in place confidentiality for the committee and its staff.

House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, said the proposal is intended to provide an option but not force anyone to disclose their case.

“What’s possible now is one side can speak publicly and the other cannot, which this bill is seeking to correct,” she said.

The legislation was endorsed 6-1 by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee. It must clear one more committee before reaching the full chamber.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said the Legislature might want to expand rather than narrow the confidentiality provision. But in the meantime, he supported the proposal to allow the accuser and accused the option of speaking out.

“I see this as a fairness situation,” Rehm said.

Anaya last year accused Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, of sexual harassment, sharing the allegations in an open letter before she filed a complaint. She hasn’t spoken about the case since.

Ivey-Soto, for his part, denied the allegations and later announced the investigation had been suspended indefinitely.

The case appears to have ended after an investigative subcommittee deadlocked on a 2-2 vote about whether to issue a determination of probable cause.

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