January 8, 2018

Anti-sexual harassment policy needs outside investigators

In 2017 I was proud to co-sponsor and vote to pass legislation to place a strong Independent Ethics Commission on the 2018 ballot. In 2018, we must take another critical step forward for ethics and against corruption and implement a comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policy. Making the Capitol safe for everyone is an issue of basic human dignity and good government accountability. We know there is strong, bi-partisan support for this anti-sexual harassment policy. We also know that getting critical details right is essential for the policy to work.

We need an independent, outside body to receive and investigate all sexual harassment reports. Having an independent body investigate sexual harassment reports builds trust and confidence for those who report sexual harassment. It also builds confidence and trust in the outcome of investigations. Conversely, keeping the investigation process “in-house” will discourage sexual harassment reports and sow confusion, mistrust and lack of confidence in investigation outcomes. We made the right choice in creating an Independent Ethics Commission that is not “in house.” We should come together again to make the right choice for independent, outside investigations of sexual harassment reports.

Another crucial detail is not including a “false reporting” mechanism. As we have seen throughout the country—and in gut-churning detail right here in New Mexico—it takes incredible courage to report sexual harassment when careers and intense personal trauma are on the line. Including “false reporting” penalties discourages those who observe or experience sexual harassment from reporting it for fear of retribution. Creating a State Capitol where sexual harassment isn’t tolerated and reports are investigated professionally and promptly means leaving “false reporting” out.

There are many good details in the current anti-sexual harassment policy. There are also key questions and clear choices on details like an outside, independent investigative body and avoiding false reporting. One additional element is bringing in robust bystander training for legislators, staff, and lobbyists—carried out by a qualified group—that will prevent and stop sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

I honor those who have come forward to share stories of harassment. Their courage and belief in building a better New Mexico deserves our respect, gratitude and most importantly our action. While I know that the issue of harassment is all too real, I also know that there is an overwhelming will from good people who want to make our State Capitol a place of dignity and good government. Read the current draft policy by going to www.nmlegis.gov, and submit your comments by Monday, January 8th online at: comment@nmlegis.gov.

State Rep. Nathan Small is a Las Cruces Democrat who represents House District 36.