Bringing sunshine to human rights settlements nears finish

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A bill that would make information about state agency settlements involving sexual harassment and other discrimination claims more accessible to the public is a step away from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk after clearing an important committee

The House Judiciary unanimously passed SB 317 after a short discussion Wednesday. The legislation would require posting to the state Sunshine Portal amounts of taxpayer dollars paid out in individual settlements related to human rights, including sexual harassment and discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation and race, and the state agencies that are involved.

Currently, it is difficult to find out about such complaints across the many agencies in state government or to know when information about individual settlements become public.

The bill does not require names be published on the Sunshine Portal, so as “to not discourage anyone from filing claims,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, co-sponsor of the bill, “but we do want to know when those claims are being paid out.”

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsor of the bill, said that the bill speeds up when the information is made public. Right now it can take up to four years to access due to confusing rules around when such information is made public.

“We’re not creating a gotcha, but you may begin to see patterns” if the public can look at the settlements in one place, Rue said.  “We’re just trying to make this information available to the public.”

Trujillo added the legislation makes it much easier to see the information than under the current system.

“Who … has the time to write IPRA requests to all the agencies” to get settlement information, Trujillo said, referring to information requests using the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.  

Judiciary Committee member, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said she loved the bill but asked “why aren’t we going farther.”

Trujillo said she and Rue already are discussing working together in future sessions to add levels of government to the requirement.   

“This only covers state agencies,” Trujillo said. “I’d like to see it applicable to school districts. I’d like to see it applicable as far as we can reach, but that’s going to take a little more collaboration, a little more communication.”

The bill now heads to the House floor. If it passes there without being changed, it would head to the governor for her signature.

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