SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – What some lawmakers are calling a “broken policy” on sexual harassment at the roundhouse is staying just the way it is, at least for now. Lawmakers shot down a proposal that would have made it easier for an investigation into claims against lawmakers to move forward.
A once-powerful state senator was stripped of his committee posts amid allegations of sexual misconduct, but the case against democratic Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto is not moving forward after the committee looking into the claims suspended the investigation. Why? The public does not know.
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Rep. Daymon Ely was one of the lawmakers leading the push to change the way these cases are investigated. Right now, if a lawmaker is accused of harassment, a committee made up of two democrats and two republicans decides whether there is probable cause to proceed.
But if the vote is two-to-two, the case deadlocks. The committee does not have to release its reasoning, and no action is taken against the accused.
On Tuesday, some lawmakers argued that’s the system working. “A four-person committee tied leads to resolution; it leads to no finding of probable cause,” said Sen. Greg Baca.
But Ely argues the public and the parties involved deserve answers. “That’s bad for the legislature, and it’s certainly bad for the person complaining because they should know one way or the other, what’s the decision, is there probable cause or isn’t there?”
Ely proposed adding a fifth member to that committee, a lawyer with expertise in discrimination law, to break the tie as that ultimately determines wrongdoing. Republican lawmakers argued bringing in an outside member could lead to bias and that the legislature would be better suited to police itself. “If indeed we are stuck, why not an amendment here in the rules today that would allow one of our own members, self-policing, to be the fifth person appointed?” said Rep. Rebecca Dow.
Others suggested these changes should wait until the legislative session in January. “It needs to be done in a manner that has more thought, has more people sitting around the table,” said Rep. James Townsend.
Ely’s proposal failed, with one Democrat on the Legislative Council joining Republicans in opposition. Ely accused those GOP lawmakers of kicking the can down the road. “And they’re okay with that. They’re going to continue to play politics with sexual harassment. And in my mind, that’s just terrible policy,” said Ely.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers who supported the proposal said it would have been merely the start of a broader overhaul of the culture at the roundhouse. “I don’t know what the fix is other than us not publicly humiliating or harassing people. What an ask, right? That we behave like decent human beings,” Rep. Javier Martinez said.
After the vote, advocates called out lawmakers saying the current process allows abuse to be swept under the rug and for abusers to be protected by political allies. “There was no confidence that they could police themselves, even as they push for that; there were no voices of the folks that actually experienced sexual harassment, no survivors were present, no general public comment was allowed,” said Lan Sena with the Center for Civic Policy.
Sena says while lawmakers consider changes to the anti-harassment policy, they should be working with advocates and creating an independent process for investigating allegations.