Lawmakers are gathering all over New Mexico for months to come to discuss priorities for the next legislative session. Much like the 2023 Legislature, some lobbyists still feel unsafe at these meetings around the state’s public servants.
Very little has changed since the last session, despite calls for more safety and accountability measures for lawmakers.
And after a senator who’s had allegations against him in the past for sexual misconduct presented all day long at an interim committee meeting last week, lobbyists are raising their voices again for change in the Legislature.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) led a long discussion on firearm rules and legislation last week, a priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the 2024 legislative session.
The same day as the presentation, lobbyists and advocacy organizations released a statement saying Ivey-Soto still shouldn’t be part of committees, if in the Senate at all. He’s on three interim committees and two full Legislature committees.
Jessie Damazyn, a spokesperson for the coalition pushing for Ivey-Soto’s removal, said in a statement that the women who came forward, and all New Mexicans, “deserve better than this.”
“Last year, multiple women courageously came forward to publicly share their stories of abuse at the hands of a powerful legislator, and to this day, he still has yet to be held accountable for his actions,” Damazyn said.
Someone filed a complaint in 2022 and other women came forward with allegations that Ivey-Soto acted inappropriately toward them.
A private investigation was conducted. The final report was never publicly released, but a leaked copy showed the investigator believed there was probable cause that at least two instances of Ivey-Soto’s conduct violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy.
Ivey-Soto told Source NM that the leaked report didn’t show the full picture and the legislative investigatory committee tasked with making a recommendation of whether or not to pursue further action didn’t find probable cause to do so.
Now, a year-and-a-half later, he said, the people calling for his removal are still getting a platform.
“What analogous scenario is there where there’s no probable cause and a year-and-a-half later, these people still have a voice?” he said.
Lan Sena is the policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, a nonprofit organization often speaking up about bills or other legislative matters. She said people who have alleged that Ivey-Soto has acted unprofessionally around them could still have to testify before him in committees.
She said it’s a slap in the face, especially as a survivor herself.
“This is the way we make a living. This is how we advocate on the community’s behalf,” she said. “And we’re still met with just an unsafe environment, whether it is the Roundhouse or interim committee.”
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Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’s also one of many women who’s come forward at great personal risk to confirm that Ivey-Soto “has disrespected, bullied and abused women.”
She said he shouldn’t have given the firearm presentation last week at all.
“I find it morally repugnant to see him put in a new position of power,” she said.
Ivey-Soto said when he was presenting, the committee didn’t take any public comments and there was no opportunity for anyone to testify, so nobody had to speak before him anyway.
When Source NM asked if the concern is valid for future committee sessions, Ivey-Soto said people made illegitimate allegations based on no probable cause.
If the legislative subcommittee had found probable cause, a legislative ethics subcommittee would’ve set a formal hearing for the matter. Ivey-Soto said he didn’t get that.
“I was deprived of the opportunity to clear my name,” he said.
Sena said she has to train not only her own staff members but also other nonprofits on how to be safe in the Roundhouse.
“As long as someone such as Ivey-Soto remains in the Roundhouse without any form of accountability, we still have to face the question: What will it take?” she said. “How many more women are coming forward each time?”
Ivey-Soto said he doesn’t really feel comfortable either.
“How do you think I feel being in the same room when they show up?” he said. “I don’t exactly feel safe.”
He said there was only one complaint against him. However, a letter in March 2022 alleged eight more incidents of Ivey-Soto acting inappropriately toward women working as lobbyists, though no additional formal complaints were filed.
Ivey-Soto said anyone who hasn’t filed a formal complaint can’t have it both ways, accusing someone of being guilty but not pursuing official action on the matter.
Sena said the survivors are tired.
“Many of us have come forward and not seen any strands of justice,” she said. “And we want to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Harassment issues are happening every single day in the Legislature, Sena said, whether people are coming forward about it or not. Not just lobbyists but also the general public should be concerned about this, she said.
“My question to the public is, if they were to be assaulted or harassed by a member of the Legislature, do they have confidence that they would know what to do? And do they have any confidence that they would get the accountability and justice that they deserve?” she said.
Changing the process
Sena said she wants to see a transparent investigative process for harassment complaints that’s independent of lawmakers, and puts victims and survivors at the forefront.
Right now, any complaints filed by members of the public against someone in the Legislature are reported to either House or Senate leadership. They investigate the complaint or decide if it should be forwarded to an ethics subcommittee made up of legislative leaders and outside attorneys.
Sena said it’s a process led by legislators, the people “who are perpetuating the harm.” It’s gut-wrenching, she said, especially “when you see no form of accountability.”
“We are the ones that are facing the inequities,” she said. “We are the ones that are facing the injustice and the gaps of the system that they created.”
Ivey-Soto said he’s absolutely in support of an independent investigation and review process for harassment complaints.
He said he’d be interested in being at the table for a bill that would change the process legally but wouldn’t be a sponsor because of the controversy that would likely cause.
“I would absolutely want to contribute to the solutions,” Ivey-Soto said. “But I would also want to be sensitive.”
Sena said legislators did the bare minimum by passing a bill this last session that allows people who file harassment complaints to speak up about it. Ivey-Soto voted for the passage of that bill.
Other legislation would’ve set in stone additional ethics rules for public employees like elected officials to follow, including that they can’t ask for sexual favors in exchange for a vote or other official favors. The bill got through the House of Representatives unanimously but died after never being scheduled on the Senate side.
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When lawmakers amended the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy last year, Ivey-Soto they could’ve done something bolder to ensure that the process of looking into complaints isn’t political.
He said his professional relationships with Senate leadership influenced, for the worse, who was chosen to investigate his case.
“The changes in the policy I don’t think went far enough to ensure that the public should have confidence in what we’re doing,” he said.
Sena said a public space full of public servants shouldn’t be unsafe for the public.
“I think that it is just astounding that we have no checks, no measures of accountability within the Roundhouse,” she said.
She’s not sure if anything will change in the next 30-day session. Sena said she hasn’t heard any conversations about these issues in the interim Legislature, and as long as things stay the same, people remain unsafe.
“I can’t with strong confidence tell anyone, especially staff members, that they will be safe, whether it’s during the interim or during this next session,” she said.
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