SANTA FE, N.M. — Eight New Mexico state lawmakers have begun rewriting policies to guard against sexual harassment at the Statehouse amid accounts by women of widespread misconduct.
The working group, which met this week, includes a retired First Amendment attorney and a politically progressive organizer for social justice causes. Republicans and Democrats are equally represented, while women outnumber men 5-3.
Female lobbyists and elected officials say widespread sexual harassment at the New Mexico Statehouse has gone unchecked under current procedures for reporting and investigating abuse. Legal counsel for the Legislature says no formal harassment complaints have been filed against lawmakers over the past five years, with two complaints involving Capitol maintenance staff.
“What we must remember is we want to create a healthy environment not only for legislators and lobbyists but also for the public when they’re involved with the Legislature, whether they’re in the building or outside the building,” said Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque.
A retired attorney who specialized in both government transparency and personnel management law, Dines has been a driving force behind a 2018 ballot measure to create an independent state ethics commission. Lawmakers have said the commission — if created — could end up vetting harassment complaints against lawmakers.
Dines, first elected to the House in 2014, said he has not seen any sexual harassment first-hand at the Capitol or other legislative functions. Of the current policy on harassment, he said that “it could be updated, it could be tightened up.”
Another lawmaker involved in revisions to harassment policies, GOP Republican Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Belen, already has made it clear she wants future harassment investigations to be handled independently of the Legislature to guard against reprisals and build trust.
The current policy puts investigations of complaints in the hands of leaders of legislative agencies or chief clerks for the House and Senate. The policy includes a warning about the consequences of false accusations.
Democrats who will help draft new anti-harassment policies include first-term Rep. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces, a 38-year-old management consultant for nonprofit groups who previously worked with a foreclosure prevention program in Southern California.
“My work is centered in this sense of understanding what it means to live on the margins,” Rubio said.
Legislative leaders aim to make public a draft of new harassment policies later this month and conduct anti-harassment training for lawmakers by mid-January.
The other lawmakers helping rewrite harassment policies are Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque; Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs; Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque; Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque; and Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants.