A panel of New Mexico legislators discussed a draft version of an updated sexual harassment policy Friday, a month ahead of the 2018 legislative session.
This marks the first time the policy has been updated since 2008. Legislators have not undergone sexual harassment training since then, before many current legislators were even elected.
The Legislative Council expects to vote on a final version on Jan. 15, the day before the start of the session.
At a hearing to discuss the draft legislation, which was described as “a work in progress,” public commenters praised the Legislature for undergoing the policy overhaul, but criticized several areas.
The three main criticisms of the draft were over who would investigate the allegations, the lack of details on sexual harassment training and a passage about punishments for false or malicious accusations.
Many said an outside entity, not the Legislature itself, should handle investigations into allegations.
“We do need an independent investigator,” lobbyist Vanessa Alarid said. “It is imperative.”
Alarid told The New York Times that former State Rep. Thomas Garcia said he would vote for a bill she was lobbying for if she had sex with him. Garcia denied this happened.
Some legislators agreed with the need for an outside entity to hold legislators accountable.
“Going to somebody outside the Legislature is extremely important,” Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, said. “We should not be policing ourselves.”
Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, suggested that were investigations to go through someone inside the legislative structure, it should be the Legislative Council Service.
Others criticized the time limits within the draft policy for when the harassment should be reported. The exact time limit was not included in the draft.
“Victims often feel powerless, humiliated and scared for their livelihoods,” Democratic campaign consultant Heather Brewer told NM Political Report after reviewing the draft proposal. “Forcing victims to conform to an arbitrary institutional timeline shows a lack of understanding of what it is like to be the subject of harassment.”
Others critics said the provision threatening actions against those who made false accusations would discourage some victims from reporting.
“We have to encourage our survivors to come forward on their own time,” Sarah Coffey told legislators. “And by putting anything that has this chilling effect on it does not help this culture shift that I know you all are trying to commit.”
The sexual harassment policy update comes at a time when sexual harassment and sexual assault have became front-page news. The New York Times and The New Yorker both released investigative reports about Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Earlier in the year, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was fired after sexual harassment allegations and settlements came to light.
State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, dropped out of the race for Lt. Governor because of decade-old sexual harassment allegations that resulted in settlements by the City of Albuquerque when he worked there. Padilla continues to deny the allegations and remains Senate Majority Whip.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Reps. John Conyers and Trent Franks each resigned from Congress, while U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold announced he would not seek reelection in 2018.
The New Mexico Legislature asked for public comment on the sexual harassment policy. Public comment can be sent through the legislative website, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by regular mail to:
Sexual Harassment Policy
Legislative Council Service
State Capitol, Suite 411
Santa Fe, NM 87501