New Mexico Legislature gets flurry of harassment complaints
By MORGAN LEE
Feb. 21, 2018
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature received five reports about possible sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination during the recently concluded session, according to the legislative branch's legal counsel.
The flurry of complaints and reports from observers about possible misconduct by lawmakers and legislative staff stands in sharp contrast to the prior decade in which just one formal complaint of sexual misconduct was filed against a legislator with no finding of probable cause or disciplinary action.
Several informal reports of misconduct emerged late last year, as statehouses nationwide confronted allegations of sexual misconduct.
In response to a public records request, the Legislative Council Service reported House lawmakers were the focus of one complaint of discrimination and one report of possible sexual harassment during the recent session. Two reports of possible sexual harassment were made by legislative staff against staff colleagues.
The incidents were resolved and no probable cause was found to warrant formal charges, said Raul Burciaga, the lead attorney for the Legislature.
Few details of the episodes were available because the Legislature does not disclose complaints where there is no finding of probable cause.
An additional complaint was related to the use of the legislative process by an outside group, and determined to not be a matter of harassment.
New Mexico lawmakers underwent harassment training and overhauled the Legislature's anti-harassment policy in January ahead of the 30-day session. The new policy includes outside counsel in investigations of complaints and determinations about possible charges.
Prior to this year, female lobbyists and elected officials said widespread sexual harassment at the Capitol went unchecked under procedures adopted in 2008.
Republican Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Belen said at the close of the legislative session that more complaints would represent progress toward greater confidence in anti-harassment procedures — an indication that "people feel like they're not shut out."
She applauded the decision to bring outside council into the process for evaluating complaints but wants the Legislature to consider turning decisions over to an independent state ethics commission. Voters will decide on whether to create the commission during general elections in November.
It was unclear whether any complaints were filed by lobbyists — who have been a focal point of concern about mistreatment at the Legislature.
Registered lobbyist Julianna Koob said Wednesday the Legislature's new anti-harassment policy and training have brought a new sense of awareness and concern to the Capitol about what constitutes respectful behavior.
"It changed in a good way," said Koob, who specializes in domestic violence legislation and said she was mistreated in the past but didn't file a complaint.
Koob said she still worries that potential complaints against lawmakers may not be filed because of concerns about privacy and possible retaliation, noting that investigations are led by a panel of three leading lawmakers.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, who helps vet complaints against House lawmakers, said he hopes for increased trust in a process where complaints are acted on immediately.
In December, registered lobbyist Vanessa Alarid publicly accused former 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.
Training on harassment issues was provided for political lobbyists this year by the Secretary of State's Office, with 112 registered lobbyists volunteering to attend.
Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque was ousted in December 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 claims.