New Mexico statehouse embarks on anti-harassment overhaul

Jan 11, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico-based lobbyists attended voluntary, state-sponsored training Thursday on how to prevent and report sexual misconduct, and lawmakers will be required to undergo similar training next week. It's part of a push by the Legislature to make the Capitol work environment safer amid a nationwide debate over sexual misconduct. The Legislature is revising its anti-harassment policies after women began breaking their silence about sexual misconduct and harassment in the Capitol. Legislators last attended sexual harassment training in 2004. New anti-harassment policies and procedures could be adopted as soon as Monday, the day before the Legislature convenes for a 30-day session. A 50-state review by The Associated Press found that almost all of their legislative chambers now have at least some type of written sexual harassment policy, though they vary widely. Many are placing a greater emphasis on preventing and punishing sexual misconduct as they convene for their 2018 sessions. Female lobbyists and elected officials in New Mexico have said widespread sexual harassment at the statehouse has gone unchecked under current procedures for reporting and investigating abuse. Democratic state Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque was ousted last month as majority whip and ended his campaign for lieutenant governor amid allegations that he harassed women at a previous job a decade ago. He has repeatedly denied the allegations. Padilla was the only New Mexico state lawmaker over the 10 last years to face major repercussions in response to concerns of sexual misconduct, according to results of public records requests by The Associated Press. "There have been no disciplinary actions, expulsions, resignations or payments made following or as a result of complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment," wrote Raul Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service that serves as legal counsel to the Legislature. The state Risk Management Division has no record of any financial settlements related to sexual misconduct by lawmakers during the past 10 years. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, is encouraging lobbyists to attend anti-harassment training by making public a list of those who have attended and requiring that lobbying firms disclose whether they have their own harassment policies. Last month, a panel of lawmakers held public deliberations over harassment policy changes and listened to several accounts from women who had witnessed or experienced sexual misconduct or harassment, or heard allegations detailing it. Yet there have been only a handful of formal complaints in New Mexico of sexual misconduct at the Legislature since 2008, under policies that refer investigations to legislative agency heads, clerks and committees. An 2015 allegation of sexual misconduct against a lawmaker whose name has not been disclosed resulted in no discipline or formal charge. Separately, a 2015 email containing allegations against a state senator never resulted in a formal complaint. In December, registered lobbyist Vanessa Alarid publicly accused former state Rep. Thomas Garcia of offering to vote for a bill in 2009 if she would have sex with him — allegations he denies. Garcia, a Democrat, left the Legislature in 2012, and no investigation of him is pending at the Legislature. Republican Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Belen has said she has experienced sexually harassing behavior in the Legislature and wants the new anti-harassment policy to allow for external investigations. She said that would help guard against retaliation and build trust in the process. Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said this week that policy revisions are likely to include the use of outside legal counsel in investigations. Separately, New Mexico voters will decide in November whether to create an independent ethics commission to take many investigations out of the hands of legislative committees or elected officials. The Legislature would determine later whether the commission would handle complaints of sexual misconduct against lawmakers.