A bill to alter how and who can talk about harassment complaints made against state legislators is now waiting for debate by the full New Mexico House.
If House Bill 169 is passed, it would allow a person who files a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Committee to speak publicly about what happened. Currently, state law bans the person who made the complaint from talking about it to the press or while working, but the person who is accused of wrongdoing is free to talk about the matter.
“It’s not that this is just a gag order. It’s a one-sided gag order,” Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo) said this week during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
This is one of those things I can’t imagine how this got through the process and was signed into law with a straight face.
– NM Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Santa Fe)
The matter came to light last year when lobbyist Marianna Anaya accused Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation. Anaya made one statement before she filed the complaint, the only time she was allowed to speak on the matter. As the process unfolded, Ivey-Soto took numerous interviews to defend himself and called Anaya’s allegations inaccurate.
In the end, the case did not move forward due to a tie vote by a legislative committee. That process was also shielded from the public and prevented Anaya from talking about even how the investigation was unfolding.
This legislation would change that and give anyone in Anaya’s shoes in the future the opportunity to defend themselves and share details about the complaint.
She testified this week in support of the bill, and was careful about not sharing her personal experience, speaking more broadly about how this impacts recovery for sexual assault survivors.
“We know victims of sexual violence and violence generally need access to resources to heal. And this gag order currently has no limit,” she said. “Victims generally don’t know whether or not they can talk to counselors. When their family asks what’s going on, whether they can share it, whether they can talk to friends.”
Alexandria Taylor with the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs said the process in place today enables problems around assault in the workplace.
Investigator completes harassment probe of NM Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto
“Survivors deserve access to healing,” she said. “And we know that silencing survivors — as this current statute does — only allows for the power imbalance to continue.”
The measure first cleared the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee on a 6-1 vote. It was then approved unanimously by House Judiciary and is on the schedule for a floor vote. It’s unclear when that vote will take place.
HB 169 would still maintain confidentiality agreements for Legislative Ethics Committee staff, who are not allowed to share information on active cases with the public.
This would also only apply outside of a 30 or 60-day legislative session. Complaints filed during session do not have the same restrictions in place.
Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) said it was strange the process is different for when he and his colleagues are not in session. He wants to see consistency across the calendar.
“I guess I never thought about it until we got to this hearing,” Lane said. “But that seems patently unfair to the complainant.”