SANTA FE – A bill aimed at shielding victims and witnesses in rape and other related cases – by creating a new exemption in New Mexico’s open records law – cleared the Senate on Monday without dissent.
The legislation was amended to be more narrow before the 40-0 vote on Senate Bill 49, which sent the measure on to the House with 12 days left in the ongoing 60-day session.
However, the director of an open government advocacy group that opposes the bill said he never received a copy of the changes before Monday’s vote took place.
Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, also called the legislation an “anti-transparency bill.”
“Police reports by their very nature are public reports, and the names are an essential element because it allows for scrutiny of the allegation and adjudication for all sides,” St. Cyr told the Journal after the vote.
But Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, said the intent of the measure is to give rape victims the same privacy rights – by having their names redacted in police reports – as the suspected perpetrators.
Under the change to the bill, the names of victims and witnesses would be made public only if criminal charges are filed. The bill would apply to cases of rape, intent to commit rape and aggravated stalking, among other related crimes.
“They must have some degree of privacy and legal protection until charges are filed,” Candelaria said of victims during debate on the Senate floor.
He also said he had tried in “good faith” to respond to critics of the bill and address their concerns.
Another legislator, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, shared a personal story on the Senate floor.
He said his wife, then a University of New Mexico student, fought off an attempted rape about 15 years ago. He said the suspect in the case was Robert Howard Bruce, a serial rapist also known as the Ether Man, who was arrested in Colorado in 2009.
Ivey-Soto said he believes his wife’s name still appears in police reports connected with the case, adding, “I just think people need to have dignity.”
The proposal is backed by the University of New Mexico, Equality New Mexico and a coalition of groups that address sexual assault.
UNM came under criticism last year from federal investigators, who identified several flaws in how the university responds to sexual assault cases. Among other findings, the U.S. Department of Justice criticized UNM for blaming women for putting themselves in dangerous situations by drinking alcohol.
The Journal – like other media outlets generally – doesn’t identify the victims of rape or domestic violence while reporting on criminal cases, even though the names are in public documents.