NM lawmakers unveil new harassment policy

SANTA FE — A bipartisan group of New Mexico lawmakers has unveiled a proposed rewrite of the Legislature’s harassment policy that would require an outside expert to be involved in reviewing complaints against sitting legislators.

The policy, which will be voted on Monday by legislative leaders, would mark a stark departure from the Legislature’s current policy. Under that policy, sexual harassment claims are investigated in-house under a largely secretive process.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, who has helped lead the charge to update the Legislature’s harassment policy, said today that having an outside expert involved in scrutinizing sexual harassment complaints is vital. A previous draft of the new policy did not include the change.

“That was extremely important,” Fajardo told the Journal.

She also said the revisions to the Legislature’s harassment policy would make New Mexico a national leader on the issue, as other states are also considering adopting new rules to govern against sexual misconduct.

A spate of recent sexual harassment allegations has rocked the state Capitol and ignited a discussion of policies, training and culture.

In addition to weighting changes to the Legislature’s harassment policy for the first time since 2008, all 112 New Mexico lawmakers will also undergo mandatory sexual harassment training on Monday — the day before a 30-day legislative session begins.

An eight-member working group of lawmakers was tasked with recommending potential changes to the current policy, which does not distinguish between legislators, lobbyists and other individuals.

Under the proposed rewrite, any complaint against a sitting legislators would be considered by three top-ranking legislators — including lawmakers from both political parties — and the outside expert. If any one of the four individuals thought the complaint merited further investigation, it would be sent to an internal ethics subcommittee for additional review.

Several New Mexico lawmakers – current and former – have come under scrutiny in recent weeks for alleged sexual misconduct.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, was recently stripped of his leadership position due to renewed scrutiny of decade-old sexual harassment allegations that stem from a previous job.

In addition, longtime Roundhouse lobbyist Vaness Alarid recently went public with claims that former state Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, wanted sex in exchange for a “yes” vote on a high-profile 2009 bill she was lobbying for.

Garcia has flatly denied the allegations, but two other former legislators have said Alarid told them about the incident at the time.