Out West Roundup: New Mexico Legislature overhauls sexual harassment policy

Author: Associated Press - January 19, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018

New Mexico state Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Epanola, right, and Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, left, sign paperwork showing they attended a mandatory anti-harassment training session at the state Capitol in Santa Fe on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. The training is part of an effort to make the Capitol work environment safer amid a nationwide debate over sexual misconduct. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

New Mexico

New Mexico Legislature overhauls sexual harassment policy

SANTA FE — The New Mexico Legislature overhauled its policies against sexual harassment and misconduct this week, setting new standards for what constitutes harassment and adding outside oversight for investigations of lawmakers.

The policy changes, approved by a panel of leading lawmakers on the eve of a new Legislative session, are designed to make the Capitol work environment safer amid a nationwide debate over sexual misconduct.

The new policies were in response to dozens of public comments at a previous public meeting and by email asking for greater independence in investigations. One change now requires that outside legal counsel participate as lawmakers investigate harassment complaints against their colleagues.

The state Senate and House continue to have the final word on the disciplining of any lawmaker accused of harassment, if probable cause of a violation is found.

“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 new policy. “It’s still up to the Legislature to make the final decision.”

Female lobbyists and elected officials have said sexual harassment at the Capitol has gone unchecked under procedures last updated in 2008.

Lawmakers  attended anti-harassment training for the first time since 2004, and the new harassment policy will require lengthier training sessions every two years.

Outside civil and criminal legal remedies remain available to victims. Legislative staff can take sexual harassment complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission — precursors to court claims for damages.

Harassment as defined under the new policy extends to racially offensive words or phrases along with other demeaning jokes or comments, innuendoes, and unwelcome compliments of a personal or intimate nature. It does not have to be intentional to be considered harassment.


Endangered Mexican gray wolf found dead in Arizona

Federal authorities are investigating the death of a Mexican gray wolf as wildlife managers prepare for an annual survey of the endangered species along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Officials with the wolf recovery effort announced this week that a female wolf was found dead in December in Arizona. They declined to release more information, saying the case is still under investigation.

For 2017, there were a total of 12 documented wolf deaths and one removal of a wolf from the wild that resulted in its death.

According to the most recent count, there are at least 113 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say a new survey of the population will begin next week.


Mormon church appoints 93-year-old ex-surgeon as president

SALT LAKE CITY — The 93-year-old former heart surgeon named this week as the new president of the Mormon Church signaled his intention to make few changes in policy regarding the role of women and LGBT issues — two topics that the faith has grappled with in recent years.

Russell M. Nelson’s remarks to reporters after he was officially chosen to become the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed an expectation that he will likely uphold traditional church teachings.

Speaking about his approach to LGBT issues, Nelson said he understands there are “challenges with the commandments of God, challenges to be worthy.”

“God loves his children and we love them and there’s a place for everyone,” Nelson said. “Regardless of his challenges.”

The church at times has expressed empathy and told members to be welcoming to LGBT people while also strictly defending opposition to same-sex marriage and all homosexual relationships.

Nelson succeeds Thomas S. Monson, who died Jan. 2 after leading the religion for nearly a decade. Church presidents serve until they die.

Nelson is now considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by Mormons. He is second-oldest man to assume leadership of the 16-million member LDS church.

Nelson did not mention changing any roles for women, instead emphasizing their importance within the current church structure that includes an all-male priesthood. “We need their voices, we need their input and we love their participation,” Nelson said.


Wyoming revenue forecast gives lawmakers $141 million

CHEYENNE — Increased mining activity is expected to give state lawmakers $141 million more to work with as they head into a budget session than previously thought.

An improved revenue forecast for state government released by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group shows even better figures than the report issued just three months ago.

But the updated report’s authors caution that revenue in coming years will continue to fall well short of levels seen before Wyoming’s most recent economic bust.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee learned from CREG that, while they’ll have more money to work with when developing a budget for the next two years, lawmakers will still have to decide whether to make cuts or pass measures to create new sources of revenue for long-term fiscal sustainability.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Wyoming came in predictions of sales and use tax collections. The last two years saw depressed sales tax revenues, but the forecast indicates that trend should reverse in 2018 at an even higher rate than predicted in October.

Increased mining activity should provide gains in severance taxes and federal mineral royalties as well. Projections reflecting the positive momentum show severance tax distributions to the general fund and Budget Reserve Account increasing by $13.3 million for fiscal year 2018 and just less than $30 million for the 2019-20 biennium, for which the Legislature is expected to pass a budget during the 2018 session.

Forecast changes in oil prices are expected to result in an increase of $7.5 million in federal mineral royalties to the Budget Reserve Account in fiscal year 2018, with an increase of $14.5 million for the 2019-20 biennium.

A drop in mineral prices in late 2014 resulted in a downturn for Wyoming’s economy that relies on mining for around 70 percent of its revenue. This led to Wyoming’s elected officials making difficult cuts to state agencies across the board for two consecutive years.

With no clear economic boom in sight, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee was tasked with identifying new sources of revenue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars to cover deficits in coming years. Lobbyists have been strong in their opposition to new tax measures, while the Wyoming Republican Party is circulating a pledge opposed to new taxes.


Couple with pot gifts again arrested in Nebraska

LINCOLN, Nebraska — A California couple arrested in Nebraska last month for carrying 60 pounds of marijuana they described as family Christmas gifts have again been arrested in Nebraska, this time on suspicion of carrying drug money.

Patrick Jiron, 80, and his 70-year-old wife, Barbara, both of Clear Lake Oaks, California, were arrested last week along Interstate 80 in southeastern Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. They were arrested last month along the same roadway — in the same vehicle — just two counties west.

Lancaster County sheriff’s officials said the couple were passengers in a pickup truck that was stopped on suspicion of following another vehicle too closely. A deputy said a search of the truck turned up a duffel bag carrying $18,000 in cash, an oversized garbage bag with raw marijuana residue inside it and notes consistent with marijuana sales.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said his department plans to turn the cash over to the federal Department of Homeland Security. If federal officials are successful in legally seizing the money, Lancaster County would get to keep about 60 percent of it, Wagner said.

Authorities have said that when the Jirons were arrested in York County on Dec. 19, they said they didn’t know it was illegal to transport marijuana through Nebraska and that they were planning to give the drug as Christmas presents to relatives in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Associated Press

Associated Press