New Mexico lawmaker derides legislature’s harassment policy

November 28, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker in New Mexico on Monday described an anything-goes atmosphere in the Statehouse where female lobbyists in particular are frequent targets of sexual harassment, urging leading lawmakers Monday to overhaul procedures for reviewing complaints of sexual misconduct.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Belen said she has encountered sexually harassing behavior in the Legislature firsthand, but does not plan to file a complaint because it might politicize and sabotage efforts to reform policies and procedures for investigations. Current policies provide little assurance of impartial review or protection from retaliation, she said.

“I’m very cognizant that we have to have solutions,” said Fajardo. “What I’ve experienced is probably not as great (severe) as some of my colleagues.”

In a letter to legislative leaders last week she described stories she has heard “where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors,” without providing further details.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf on Monday said he had not witnessed or heard of that kind of misconduct before and is taking the situation very seriously.

Egolf said a bipartisan working-group of lawmakers is developing new anti-harassment policies that could be adopted as soon as mid-December. He said New Mexico lawmakers are examining measures taken outside New Mexico as statehouses nationwide grapple with allegations of sexual misconduct.

The review comes as decade-old allegations of sexual harassment roil the campaign for lieutenant governor by Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque. He has repeatedly denied allegations of harassment at a prior job with the city of Albuquerque. Critics including Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham have urged Padilla to end his campaign.

Fajardo said harassment policies offer some protections to lawmakers and legislative staff — but need be extended to lobbyists, vendors and others whose work brings them to the Capitol.

She urged legislative leaders to turn over future allegations of harassment to outside legal counsel for review — and eventually perhaps to an independent ethics commission. Complaints currently are evaluated by legislative agency directors and chief clerks.

New Mexico voters decide in November 2018 whether to create an independent ethics commission by amending the state constitution. If the amendment passes, lawmakers would write legislation outlining detailed responsibilities of the commission.

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