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State won’t release records on sex harassments

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Legislature’s administrative arm has refused to release records related to two sexual harassment complaints at the state Capitol, claiming the documents are exempt from disclosure under state law.

Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga, in a Thursday memo, told the Journal the records will “not be provided.” He also cited an exemption in the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act that deals with matters of opinion in personnel files.

However, the president of a state transparency group disputed the stance, citing a state Court of Appeals ruling that determined complaints against police officers should be public record.

“(Our) position is that anything in those records that is ‘opinion’ may be redacted, and that everything else must be provided, including witness statements, final disciplinary records, etc.,” said Gregory Williams, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The issue of sexual misconduct has come under heightened scrutiny – both in New Mexico and nationally – amid a wave of allegations levied against prominent male politicians, actors and media figures.

Earlier this week, state Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, ended his 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor after he came under fire for sexual harassment allegations lodged against him a decade ago, before he was elected to the Legislature. He has also faced calls to step down from the Senate.

There has also been a recent push to update the Legislature’s own harassment policy, which was last updated in 2008. A group of eight lawmakers is studying potential changes to the policy that could be enacted before a 30-day session begins next month.

Meanwhile, the existence of the two Roundhouse complaints was revealed by the Legislative Council Service last week in response to a Journal records request seeking information on any complaints filed in the past five years.

Both complaints involve maintenance staffers, not legislators, Burciaga has said.

However, the stance take by the Legislative Council Service – not to release records related to sexual harassment complaints – could also be applied to any future allegations against legislators, at least under the current policy.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, who is among the lawmakers working on revising the sexual harassment policy, has asked top legislative staffers to explain how they handled the past complaints.

She has also expressed concern about why a 2016 email that included allegations against Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, was not included in response to the initial records request. The Journal obtained the letter on its own.

Two top legislative branch officials replied to Fajardo by saying allegations of sexual harassment are taken seriously, and that no allegations have been swept under the rug.