By DAVID A. LIEB
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.
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.
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.
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 —
Lawmakers around the country have said it's now time to take concrete steps to change that culture.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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."
A Senate panel subsequently approved annual training for senators and staff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
House Speaker Todd Richardson said the chamber continues to review its procedures.
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.
Press data editor Meghan Hoyer in Washington, D.C., and AP writers Adam
Beam in Frankfort, Kentucky, and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to