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Roundhouse Sees Sexual Harassment Training, New Legislation

Critics say inappropriate behavior at the Roundhouse has gone unchecked for years because there was no effective procedure to report such conduct. (Progress Now New Mexico)
Critics say inappropriate behavior at the Roundhouse has gone unchecked for years because there was no effective procedure to report such conduct. (Progress Now New Mexico)
January 17, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. – Training for New Mexico legislators is underway at the State Capitol this week about what constitutes sexual harassment.

Women lobbyists and elected officials at the Roundhouse maintain inappropriate behavior has gone unchecked for years because there was no effective procedure to report such conduct.

Heather Ferguson, legislative director for Common Cause New Mexico, says this is the first training of this type for lawmakers and their staff members in more than a decade.

"This has just been an accepted behavior for a very long time – you know, I can completely understand why women haven't felt comfortable coming forward with that,” she states. “But this is that new day that everyone has been waiting for."

The Legislature also overhauled its policies against sexual misconduct and harassment this week, adding outside oversight for investigations to provide safety for those who report allegations.

The issue has come to the forefront as part of a national wave of claims against powerful people in politics, entertainment and business.

Inappropriate behavior at the Roundhouse has been described as propositions for sexual favors in exchange for political support, inappropriate text messages, and a pact among female lobbyists to inform colleagues of which male legislators to avoid.

Working as a lobbyist since 2007, Ferguson says she's witnessed a long-standing culture of sexual harassment and misconduct.

"There's probably no instance where I certainly would have ever felt comfortable reporting any instances of harassment, because you wouldn't even know who to take that complaint to," she states.

Ferguson says in her experience, only a handful of people have caused these types of problems. She hopes the training puts them on notice.

"It needs to be very clear that, while some behavior was acceptable, was not reported – if you smacked somebody's butt or made a comment about their legs last year and they didn't say anything bad about it, even though that was accepted then, it is no longer accepted now, and you could find yourself in trouble," she stresses.

Male lawmakers at the Roundhouse outnumber their female counterparts – there are 112 men and 34 women, which some observers say has encouraged a good old boy atmosphere.


Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM