States rethink sexual misconduct policies after complaints

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — After a tumultuous few months that saw numerous lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct, a majority of state legislatures across the country are considering strengthening sexual harassment policies that have gone unheeded or unchanged for years.

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From right, Pamela Powers-Hannley, D-Tucson, Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, and Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, participate with other Arizona House members receiving mandatory sexual harassment and other ethics issues training on the House floor at the Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


A 50-state review by The Associated Press found that almost all legislative chambers now have at least some type of written sexual harassment policy, though they vary widely, and many are placing a greater emphasis on preventing and punishing sexual misconduct as they convene for their 2018 sessions.

This week alone, lawmakers in Arizona, Idaho and Rhode Island underwent detailed training about sexual harassment, some for the first time.

Yet about a third of all legislative chambers do not require lawmakers to receive training about what constitutes sexual harassment, how to report it and what consequences it carries, the AP's review found.

The AP also found that only a minority of legislative bodies conduct external investigations into complaints, with most others entrusting lawmakers or staff to look into allegations against colleagues. That has contributed to a culture in some capitols in which the targets of sexual harassment have been reluctant to come forward with complaints — until recently.

Lawmakers around the country have said it's now time to take concrete steps to change that culture.

"Let's treat all women — regardless of their background, their age, their political affiliation, their role in the process — as ladies, as we would like anybody to treat our wives, our daughters, mothers, sisters," said J.D. Mesnard, the Republican who heads the Arizona state House, where lawmakers took part in mandated sexual harassment training this week.

A wave of sexual misconduct claims against prominent figures in entertainment, media and politics gained momentum last fall after a multitude of women made allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

In the past year, at least 14 legislators in 10 states have resigned from office following accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct, according to the AP's review. At least 16 others in more than a dozen states have faced other repercussions, such as the voluntary or forced removal from legislative leadership positions. Some others remain defiant in the face of ongoing investigations into sexual harassment complaints.

The AP found that about three-fourths of the states have at least one legislative chamber that has updated its sexual harassment policy during the past several months, developed specific proposals to do so or undertaken a review of whether changes are needed.

The Arizona House had no written sexual harassment policy until November, when Mesnard issued one after a female lawmaker accused a male colleague of sexually harassing her. In the weeks that followed, several other women came forward with stories of crude behavior by state Rep. Don Shooter.

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Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, foreground, R-Scottsdale, and others listen to Rep. Don Shooter, center background, R-Yuma, as he reads a statement regarding sexual harassment and other misconduct complaints made against him by Ugenti-Rita and others, as he spoke prior to Arizona House members receiving mandatory sexual harassment and other ethics issues training on the House floor at the Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


On Tuesday, at the start of mandatory sexual harassment training, Shooter stood before colleagues and apologized for conduct he called "jarring, insensitive and demeaning." But he denied the most serious complaint — that he tried to pressure Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita into a sexual relationship.

Ugenti-Rita was sitting just three rows in front of Shooter and appeared shaken at times as he spoke.

Shooter, a Republican, has been removed as head of the appropriations committee as an investigation into his conduct continues.

In Kentucky, the acting House speaker has appointed a committee to devise a formal system to address workplace complaints. That comes after former Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned his leadership post following revelations that he had paid to keep a sexual harassment settlement secret. Three other lawmakers who signed the secret settlement were removed as chairmen of various committees.

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Republican speaker of Kentucky's House of Representatives Rep. Jeff Hoover resigns from his leadership position during a speech at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. Hoover's resignation comes more than two months after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim and paid to keep it quiet. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves)


"If people felt like they had to be accountable and responsible for their behavior and there were strict guidelines for what they had to follow, sometimes that's all people need is a list of duties or a list of dos and don'ts," said Kentucky Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, who has been pushing for a formal House policy.

Legislative chambers in Alaska, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio are among the states considering improved policies on sexual harassment — in each case after sexual harassment claims were brought to light.

In Washington state, more than 40 lawmakers joined scores of other women in a letter last November calling for a change in the capitol culture. They wrote it has "too often functioned to serve and support harassers' power and privilege over protection of those who work for them."

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Rhode Island lawmakers wearing black to in solidarity with the Time's Up movement and as a statement against sexual misconduct stand at the House speaker's rostrum at the Statehouse in Providence, R.I., on Tuesday, Jan. 9., 2018. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)


A Senate panel subsequently approved annual training for senators and staff.

Among states that require sexual harassment training for lawmakers, the frequency varies greatly. Some offer it annually or every other year, while others require it only once, when a lawmaker is first elected.

The New Mexico House and Senate last provided sexual harassment training to lawmakers in 2004, but will hold mandatory training next week.

Experts say more frequent training is best, but they emphasize that its effectiveness also depends on how it is conducted.

Providing only generic definitions of sexual harassment or relying solely on online and video training can be unproductive, said Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University who focuses on sexual harassment law. A better approach uses in-person training with real-life scenarios about what constitutes harassment and what to do about it, she said.

Debbie S. Dougherty, a communications professor at the University of Missouri who researches sexual harassment policies, recommends that such policies include more emotional language — referring to harassers as predators, for example — to emphasize the seriousness of the issue. They also should be tailored to the unique work culture of a legislature, where the people with the most influence are elected rather than hired.

Experts say external investigations also are important for people to feel comfortable in reporting sexual harassment allegations. Yet the AP's review found that only about a dozen House chambers and slightly more Senate chambers conduct external investigations, with several additional chambers offering it as an option.

Among those is the Texas House, which until December had a written policy encouraging accusers who wanted to pursue an external complaint to call a phone number that didn't work at a state commission that was defunct. The revised House policy explains the internal complaint process in greater detail, offers an external review on a situational basis and gives accusers options for filing complaints through an external agency.

The Missouri House updated its policies after former Speaker John Diehl Jr. resigned in 2015 while admitting to sending sexually suggestive text messages to a House intern. Among other things, the new policy requires a private attorney to be hired to investigate any sexual harassment allegations involving lawmakers.

House Speaker Todd Richardson said the chamber continues to review its procedures.

"As I said from the day we implemented that policy, it was going to be an ongoing effort to make sure that we got it right," he said.

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Associated Press data editor Meghan Hoyer in Washington, D.C., and AP writers Adam Beam in Frankfort, Kentucky, and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.


Lawmakers in numerous states face sexual misconduct claims

By The Associated Press 

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This combination of photos shows the numerous state lawmakers across the country who have been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment in the past year as of January 2018, who have resigned from office. Top row from left are Alaska Rep. Dean Westlake, California Assemblyman Matt Dababneh and Florida Sen. Jack Latvala. Middle row from left are Mississippi Rep. John Moore, Nevada Sen. Mark Manendo and Oklahoma Rep. Dan Kirby. Bottom row from left are Oklahoma Sen. Ralph Shortey, Oklahoma Sen. Bryce Marlatt and South Dakota Rep. Mathew Wollmann. (AP Photo)


Numerous state lawmakers across the country have been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment during the past year. Those who so far have resigned or faced other consequences:

RESIGNED FROM OFFICE

1. Alaska: Rep. Dean Westlake, submitted resignation letter Dec. 15 after being accused by several women of inappropriate behavior.

2. California: Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, resigned effective Jan. 1 after a lobbyist said he pushed her into a bathroom during a Las Vegas social event and engaged in lewd behavior in front of her.

3. California: Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, resigned in November after allegations that he had kissed or groped multiple women without their consent.

4. Florida: Sen. Jack Latvala, resigned effective Jan. 5 following allegations of sexual misconduct raised by multiple women.

5. Minnesota: Sen. Dan Schoen, resigned effective Dec. 15 following several allegations from women.

6. Minnesota: Rep. Tony Cornish, resigned effective Nov. 30 following several allegations, including from a lobbyist who said he repeatedly propositioned her for sex.

7. Mississippi: Rep. John Moore, resigned in December after multiple women made complaints against him; the House speaker's office said he had been facing an investigation led by an outside lawyer.

8. Nevada: Sen. Mark Manendo, resigned in July after a law firm concluded that he violated the Legislature's anti-harassment policy and behaved inappropriately toward female staffers and lobbyists.

9. Ohio: Sen. Clifford Hite, resigned in October after being accused of sexually harassing a female state employee.

10. Oklahoma: Rep. Dan Kirby, resigned in February after two former assistants alleged he sexually harassed them, including one with whom he had reached a confidential wrongful-termination settlement that included a $44,500 payment from House funds.

11. Oklahoma: Sen. Ralph Shortey, resigned in March and later pleaded guilty to a federal charge of child sex trafficking after being accused of hiring a 17-year-old boy for sex.

12. Oklahoma: Sen. Bryce Marlatt, resigned in September after being charged with sexual battery for allegedly groping an Uber driver who picked him up from a restaurant in the capital city.

13. South Dakota: Rep. Mathew Wollmann, resigned in January 2017 after admitting to sexual contact with two interns, which a legislative panel said was a violation of rules.

14. Tennessee: Rep. Mark Lovell, resigned in February as a House ethics panel concluded that he had violated the Legislature's sexual harassment policy.

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OTHER ACTIONS

1. Arizona: Rep. Don Shooter, suspended in November as chairman of the appropriations committee pending an external investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed a female colleague.

2. California: Sen. Tony Mendoza, agreed Jan. 3 to take a one-month paid leave of absence during an investigation into allegations that he behaved inappropriately with three young women who worked for him.

3. Colorado: Rep. Steve Lebsock, replaced Jan. 9 as chairman of the House Local Government Committee after allegations he sexually harassed a female lawmaker.

4. Illinois: Sen. Ira Silverstein, resigned in November as majority caucus chairman after a victims rights advocate publicly accused him of sending inappropriate messages to her.

5. Kentucky: House Speaker Jeff Hoover, resigned from his leadership post Jan. 8 after secretly settling a sexual harassment complaint with a female legislative aide and acknowledging he sent inappropriate text messages to her.

6. Kentucky: Rep. Jim DeCesare, removed from a legislative committee chairmanship in November after signing a secret sexual harassment settlement.

7. Kentucky: Rep. Brian Linder, removed from a legislative committee chairmanship in November after signing a secret sexual harassment settlement.

8. Kentucky: Rep. Michael Meredith, removed from a legislative committee chairmanship in November after signing a secret sexual harassment settlement.

9. Massachusetts: Senate President Stan Rosenberg, stepped aside in December from his leadership position pending an investigation by an independent law firm. The firm is looking into whether he violated any rules following a media report alleging that his husband sexually abused several men, including some who had dealings with the Legislature.

10. New Mexico: Sen. Michael Padilla, ousted in December as Democratic majority whip by the caucus after decade-old allegations that he had sexually harassed women in a prior job. Padilla also dropped out of the lieutenant governor's race.

11. New York: Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin, formally sanctioned in November by a legislative ethics panel after allegations that he asked a female legislative staffer for nude photos and leaked her name when she filed a harassment complaint.

12. Oklahoma: Rep. Will Fourkiller, advised in February to get sensitivity training and blocked from interacting with the Legislature's page program for a year after being accused of making inappropriate comments to a high school page in 2015.

13. Oregon: Sen. Jeff Kruse, removed from committees in October and told in a letter from the Senate president not to touch women after new accusations that he had inappropriately touched female colleagues. He faces an ongoing Senate investigation.

14. Pennsylvania: Sen. Daylin Leach, announced in December that he will "step back" from his campaign for a congressional seat after allegations that he behaved inappropriately toward female employees and campaign aides. Also facing a call from Gov. Tom Wolf to resign.

15. Washington: Rep. Matt Manweller, resigned as assistant floor leader and was removed as ranking member of a House committee in December. Manweller also was placed on paid leave from his job as a political science professor at Central Washington University and barred from contacting past and present students while the university investigates allegations of sexual harassment against him.

16. Wisconsin: Rep. Josh Zepnick, removed from legislative committees in December after being accused of kissing two women against their will at political events several years ago.

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ALSO OF NOTE

1. Idaho: Rep. James Holtzclaw, accused in a complaint of making inappropriate comments to at least two people during the 2017 session.

2. Pennsylvania: Rep. Tom Caltagirone, facing calls by Gov. Tom Wolf to resign after reports that House Democrats authorized paying about $250,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim from a legislative assistant against Caltagirone in 2015.

3. Rhode Island: Rep. Teresa Tanzi, publicly alleged in October that a more senior legislator had suggested that sexual favors would allow her bills to go further, but Tanzi has not publicly identified the lawmaker.

4. Florida: Sen. Jeff Clemens, resigned in October after an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. The House speaker had said that because a lobbyist is dependent on legislators, "the facts here raise a very real question of sexual harassment."

5. Kentucky: Rep. Dan Johnson killed himself in December, just days after being publicly accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in 2013.