SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico lawmakers took new steps Monday to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment at the state Capitol, attending a training session and considering new procedures for reporting violations.
On the day before the start of a new legislative session, the mandatory anti-harassment training dwelled on hypothetical situations about behavior running the gamut from sexual coercion to unwelcome compliments and hugs.
Attorney and human resources consultant Edward Mitnick instructed lawmakers on how to avoid behavior that might be interpreted as harassment by a “reasonable person,” a legal standard that may be added to official policy. He also urged them to create a culture of mutual respect by their own example.
“Mutual respect is not treating others as you want to be treated, mutual respect is treating others as they want to be treated,” he said.
The training was part of an effort to make the Capitol work environment safer amid a nationwide debate over sexual misconduct.
The Legislature also is in the process of revising its anti-harassment policies, after women began breaking their silence about sexual misconduct and harassment in the Statehouse.
Female lobbyists and elected officials have said sexual harassment at the Capitol has gone unchecked under current procedures that direct complaints to chief clerks or the heads of legislative agencies.
A draft of the new policy spelled out in greater detail what behavior constitutes sexual harassment, and provides specialized procedures for investigating complaints of misconduct by state employees, lawmakers or others who work or visit in the Capitol — including as registered lobbyist and other policy advocates.
The new policy departs from procedures in place since 2008 by requiring involvement of outside legal counsel during investigations of members of the Legislature. Sanctions against lawmakers ultimately will be decided by members of the House or Senate.
“Outside counsel alone can say this goes further” in the investigation process, said Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, one of eight lawmakers who drafted the proposal. “It’s still up to the Legislature to make the final decision.”
Harassment as defined under the draft policy can involve behaviors such as slurs, demeaning jokes or comments, innuendoes, unwelcome compliments of a personal or intimate nature. It does not have to be intentional to be considered harassment.