Guv signs bill banning requirements for NDAS in settlements for sexual harassment

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Wednesday that makes nondisclosure agreements for harassment, retaliation or discrimination no longer a bargaining tool for employers in settlements. HB 21, a nondisclosure agreement bill, levels the playing field, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, a Democrat from Albuquerque. When a victim of harassment, retaliation or discrimination files a lawsuit against an employer, the employer can no longer require the victim to sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement. Hochman-Vigil and other proponents of the bill said during the legislative session that more often than not the victim is no longer employed when they bring suit and are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition for settling. That silences the victim, proponents said during the legislative session.

A bill to prohibit requiring NDAs for sexual harassment settlements headed to Guv’s desk

A bill that supporters say will prevent serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed the Senate floor 23 to 13. HB 21 will enable victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination in the workplace to determine if a nondisclosure agreement should be part of a settlement with a former employer. Backers of the bill say it levels the playing field and prevents serial abuse. The bill is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. According to Christopher Papalco, a University of New Mexico law student, 38 percent of sexual harassment claims in New Mexico involve repeat offenders.

Bill to aid pregnant workers clears committee after debate over perceived vagueness

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protect pregnant workers but killed a proposed amendment that some lawmakers said would have protected workers who allege a violation of the proposed law from further discrimination. HB 25 aims to protect pregnant workers or new moms from discrimination in the workplace. Under the proposed law, New Mexico employers with four or more employees would have to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant worker or new mom. Examples of “reasonable accommodations” are defined as reprieve from heavy lifting, providing water or a stool at a workstation and extra bathroom breaks, according to backers of the bill. The bill has received wide support from industry, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights organizations.

Bill to eliminate settlement confidentiality period stalled indefinitely

Legislation aimed at eliminating a six month confidentiality period after legal settlements with the state stalled indefinitely in a Senate committee, pending changes suggested by some members. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Monday to postpone SB 64, sponsored by Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque and Democratic Sen. Linda Trujillo until more changes to the bill are made. 

Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he is trying to avoid making changes in committee and suggested the sponsors take some of the recommended changes into consideration and bring it back to the committee. Concerns from other members ranged from a lack of penalties for releasing information before a settlement is made official to unclear language about when a claim with the state is considered settled. 

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, bluntly told the bills sponsors, along with General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz, that the bill was unclear. “Frankly, I think you’re so far in the weeds you’re not clear,” Ivey-Soto said. 

Ivey-Soto’s suggestion was that the sponsors completely strike the section of law that currently requires a confidentiality period and start from scratch. 

Just before Rue presented his bill, State Auditor Brian Colón presented a summary of his office’s findings related to 18 settlements made in the final weeks of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s time in office. Late last year Colón’s office conducted an audit of those settlements and found “abuse of power” and wrongdoing by the Martinez administration. 

The Martinez settlements’ three year confidentiality period went well beyond 180 days. Some committee members said they were concerned that Rue and Trujillo’s bill did not do enough to prevent a confidentiality period being written into the terms of a settlement. 

Regardless of Cervantes’ hesitation to pass the bill along as-is, he said he was frustrated with the revelations of the Martinez settlements.

Chief Justice Nakamura urges lawmakers for funding

New Mexico Chief Justice Judith Nakamura on Monday pushed lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee for more funding for new judge positions and beefed-up security in courts across the state. The committee is not directly involved in crafting the state budget, but Nakamura and Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, discussed what they argued is a need for $1.53 million to hire more judges, including one in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, and more than $2.7 million to bolster court security in a state where only two of 47 Magistrate Courts have armed security guards. “Courts tend sometimes to be fairly volatile places, so ensuring that those who work in the courts as well as those who use the courts remains one of our highest priorities,” Nakamura said after the hearing. “Police departments, sheriff’s departments, are themselves strapped for resources, or districts are so large they’re off patrolling other areas,” she continued. “And we do have some courthouses where there isn’t security neatly available for a variety of reasons, [or] their call button doesn’t go to the closest sheriff’s department but one that could be a hundred miles away.

A partisan combatant, a remorseful blogger: The Senate staffer behind the attack on the Trump-Russia investigation

Jason Foster, chief investigative counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, fits a classic Washington profile: A powerful, mostly unknown force at the center of some of the most consequential battles on Capitol Hill. For the last year, Foster — empowered by his boss, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman — has been the behind-the-scenes architect of an assault on the FBI, and most centrally its role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to interviews with current and former congressional aides, federal law enforcement officials and others. With Foster in charge of his oversight work, Grassley has openly speculated about whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information as Comey raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s possible interference in the Russia probe. Grassley and the other Republicans on the committee have questioned the impartiality of a former member of Mueller’s team, cast doubt on the credibility of the FBI’s secret court application for permission to surveil a Trump campaign associate and called for a second special counsel to investigate matters related to Hillary Clinton. A firm that conducted opposition research on Trump has made clear in court it believes Grassley’s committee, with Foster as its lead investigator, had leaked sensitive information about its business.

Senate panel blocks amendment on selecting regents

A state Senate committee on Monday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that backers argued would have helped depoliticize the often partisan process of selecting regents for the boards of New Mexico’s public universities. Instead of leaving it for governors to pick just about whoever they like to lead the biggest institutions in the state’s sprawling higher education system, Senate Joint Resolution 1 would have created nominating committees to vet applicants for each vacant board seat and recommend appointees. The governor could then choose from the committee’s list. But Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a range of sometimes contradictory concerns. The proposal was too vague, some argued.

State Sen. wants parents to have access to investigations into school police

Laura Gutierrez has been trying to get public records from Albuquerque Public Schools for more than a year. In 2014 a school law enforcement officer allegedly used force against her autistic son. APS opened an investigation and soon cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Gutierrez wants to see all the documents from this investigation. In the fall and winter of 2015, Gutierrez filed four public records requests with APS for the district’s internal investigation of the officer, an employee of the school district.

Panel approves money for jury trials

A state Senate committee Monday night approved $1.6 million in funding for the courts, enough to pay for jury trials through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Still, it was unclear whether the legislation represented a temporary or a permanent step back from the brink of a breakdown for the judicial system. The committee action was another pull in a political tug-of-war between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over funding for the courts. The game is being played out against a backdrop of a state budget crunch across all of government. In recent weeks, Martinez has twice vetoed money to avoid a halt to jury trials and potential dismissal of criminal charges against defendants.

Senate committee says no to allowing youth curfews

A bill that would let cities and municipalities impose limited youth curfews failed in a Senate committee Tuesday evening. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the legislation on a 6-4 vote, with bipartisan votes on both sides of the issue. “This in no way mandates a statewide curfew,” House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, the sponsor of the legislation, said in describing the bill. Instead, it would only allow cities and municipalities to impose curfews that only were from midnight to 5:00 a.m. and even then had a number of exceptions. The Albuquerque Republican said that he was brought the idea by Albuquerque city councilor Ken Sanchez.