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Harassment claims filed against legislators

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Two claims have already been filed against two sitting lawmakers under a revised anti-harassment policy adopted last month by the New Mexico Legislature.

However, the Legislature’s administrative arm said the allegations and identities of the involved parties will not be made public, because a review found no cause to warrant formal charges of wrongdoing.

A senior attorney with the Legislative Council Service, in response to a public records request by the Journal, said one complaint and one report involving lawmakers have been filed under the revised harassment policy since it was enacted Jan. 15.

Both formal complaints and more informal reports can trigger an investigation under the revised policy.

The complaint involved alleged discrimination on the part of a state representative, while the report involved possible sexual harassment by a different representative. Both were resolved without further action being necessary, said Jon Boller, the Legislative Council Service attorney.

“Complaints or reports of harassment against a legislator are treated as complaints of unethical conduct and are made public only if probable cause is found to warrant a formal charge,” Boller said in an email. “No such finding was made in either case, and thus, any documents related to those reports or complaints would not be disclosed pursuant to (state law).”

The issue of sexual harassment at the Roundhouse came under renewed scrutiny last fall, after a string of sexual misconduct allegations levied against politicians, media figures and entertainment executives prompted a national movement.

Leading New Mexico lawmakers then assembled a working group to recommend changes to the policy, which had not previously been updated since 2008.

Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, a member of that working group, said he was not aware of the recent complaints but was not surprised they had been filed.

“It got a lot of people’s attention – and rightfully so,” Dines said of the heightened scrutiny on harassment issues.

He also said he believes the revised policy is working, a sentiment echoed by other lawmakers.

Under the policy enacted in January, sexual harassment complaints filed against a sitting legislator are considered by three top-ranking legislators – including lawmakers from both political parties – and an outside expert. If any one of the four individuals believes a complaint merits further investigation within a five-day review period, it is sent to an internal ethics panel for additional scrutiny.

In addition to the allegations involving lawmakers, Boller said, one complaint was filed by a member of the public against an unnamed organization for using the legislative process to “pre-empt” the individual’s efforts at the Roundhouse. That complaint was determined not to fall under the definition of harassment.

There have also been two reports of possible harassment by legislative staffers against other staff members. Both of those were resolved to the satisfaction of the parties involved, Boller said.

All five of the complaints and reports stemmed from this year’s 30-day legislative session, which ended last week, Boller confirmed Wednesday.

Specific allegations of sexual misconduct have been levied against several current and former New Mexico lawmakers in recent years, and some female lobbyists and legislators have described the state Capitol as a minefield of inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, leering looks and sexual propositions.

All 112 lawmakers were also required to undergo harassment training before the start of this year’s session. Legislators last received such training in 2004.