SANTA FE – New Mexico legislative leaders have begun a review of workplace sexual harassment guidelines and preventative training, as decade-old accusations roil a state senator’s campaign for lieutenant governor.
The Legislature’s “no harassment policy” outlines steps for confronting and investigating sexual misconduct among lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists, vendors and others.
It is being reviewed as three Democratic Party youth groups called Wednesday for state Sen. Michael Padilla to withdraw from the race for lieutenant governor and resign from the Legislature because of allegations that he harassed women at a prior job in 2006.
“We don’t want this kind of behavior in our party,” said Jackie Luchini, board president for the University of New Mexico College Democrats, one of the groups. “From now on, we don’t want to see any candidate run who has a history of sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence.”
Padilla, who was elected to the state Senate in 2012, has long denied allegations that he describes as hostile workplace issues unrelated to sexual harassment.
The last time New Mexico lawmakers underwent specific training for sexual misconduct issues was in 2004, according to the Legislature’s legal services office.
Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque said she doesn’t believe there is a simple enough process for women lawmakers and aides to file sexual harassment complaints. That keeps many from coming forward in the New Mexico Statehouse, she said.
If the New Mexico House and Senate adopt a simpler process, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you start seeing more women come forward,” she said.
Senate majority leader Peter Wirth said he is suggesting new preventative training on harassment before the Legislature convenes in January.
Misconduct accusations against Padilla prior to his Senate career are outlined in two federal lawsuits that describe harassing behavior against women while Padilla helped Albuquerque overhaul a problem-plagued emergency call center in 2006.
The city ended up settling claims of a “sexually hostile work environment” stemming from Padilla’s six-week tenure as a supervisor.
Gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged Padilla to end his campaign that could pair them together on the Democratic ticket in 2018.
Padilla issued a lengthy statement Wednesday that said his situation is distinct from sexual harassment accusations generating national attention.
The statement says he “recognizes and understands the seriousness of the larger issues regarding sexual harassment. Some individuals may be conflating two distinct matters.”
Statehouses nationwide are grappling with allegations of sexual misconduct and what new preventative measures may be taken to deter bad behavior and ensure confidence in the complaint process.
New Mexico’s Legislature relies on a two-page written policy, last updated in 2008, for addressing reported incidents of harassment, including sexual harassment.
Initial investigations are handled internally by legislative agency directors or chief clerks, with confidentiality “respected to the greatest extent possible.” The policy prohibits retaliation, without elaborating on safeguards or procedures.
Separately, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office announced it would encourage political lobbyists to undergo voluntary training to prevent sexual harassment. Lobbyist registration forms will contain a new check-box to indicate whether lobbyists have undergone training or not.
Wirth said state lawmakers also may receive new training on broader ethics matters in response to the corruption trial and conviction this month of former state Sen. Phil Griego on fraud and bribery charges related to his work as a lawmaker.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Albuquerque, New Mexico.