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Harassment claims in NM Legislature rise

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Legislature has received more complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment this year than it did over the past decade, after shoring up procedures for investigations.

Public records requests by The Associated Press show New Mexico’s Legislature received four complaints about misconduct or harassment during this year’s legislative session – two against lawmakers and two against their staff. That’s up from just one complaint over the previous decade.

The AP filed similar records requests in every state, seeking information on sexual misconduct or harassment complaints against lawmakers, as well as any financial settlements.

Though the process unearthed a total of about 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in settlements nationwide, the actual figures are almost certainly higher.

That’s because a majority of states released no records, with some saying they had no complaints, did not keep a tally, or aren’t legally bound to disclose the information.

Few details of the alleged harassment in New Mexico were available because the Legislature does not disclose information about complaints where there is no finding of probable cause.

Prior to this year, female lobbyists and elected officials said widespread sexual harassment at the Capitol went unchecked under procedures adopted in 2008.

The Legislature adopted a new anti-harassment policy in January, and it instituted mandatory training for lawmakers about what constitutes harassing behavior.

The new policies require a review by outside counsel when lawmakers are accused of misconduct, rather than just a review by peers and staff.

The secretary of state’s office is providing voluntary training for lobbyists, a particular focus of concern.

Late last year, lobbyist Vanessa Alarid 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 no longer serves in the legislature, and Alarid did not file a formal complaint.

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.

Other concerns about harassment are reverberating through New Mexico politics.

New Mexico Democratic Party chairman Richard Ellenberg resigned in March after a skeptical response to sexual misconduct allegations against a figure in New Mexico’s film industry. The party has yet to name a new leader.