Commentary: Santa Fe— Now, everything is secret. But that could change under a bill filed this week.
The public’s money will no longer be used to buy silence when settlements are paid out for harassment and other human rights violations claims in New Mexico under Senator Rue’s bill. All violation settlements will be made public and posted on the state’s Sunshine Portal website or no tax dollars will be paid out under a bill filed this week.
“Now that the blindfolds are coming off regarding harassment in the workplace, it is time to remove the gags. My bill will no longer allow tax dollars to be used to buy silence from the parties involved in Human Rights violations. No more secret settlements. No more gag orders. No more restricting comments from being made public about settlements,” Senator Rue said. “We have a right to know which agencies are having claims filed against them and how many tax dollars are being paid out to settle those claims. If that information is not posted for the public to see, no payouts with public monies will be made under my bill.”
Senator Rue said court gag orders perpetuate bad behavior and agencies making secret agreements are in essence shielding themselves and their allegedly bad actions from the public. “Once the public begins to learn how much they are paying for settlements of human right violations claims, they will begin to ask “What is going on in that government office?’” Senator Rue said. “Now, we don’t even know there are alleged violations, claims or settlements. Why are there gag orders? Why isn’t this being exposed?”
In order for tax dollars to continue to be used to pay for settlements arising from a claim filed with the human rights commission or the United States equal employment opportunity commission, Senator Rue’s bill requires to be made public and posted on the state’s Sunshine Portal website:
· A summary of the facts leading to the settlement agreement
· Including: Name of agency, department or office
· Not including claimants, employee names, job titles
· The amount of state public money paid for actual or compensatory damages
· The amount of attorney fees
According to his bill, the posting on the Sunshine Portal shall occur within 30 days of the execution of the settlement agreement by the state agency that is party to the settlement agreement or the human rights commission.