States tackle sex­ual mis­con­duct poli­cies

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY DAVID A. LIEB

JEF­FER­SON CITY, MO. — 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.

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, Ten­nessee and Rhode Is­land un­der­went de­tailed train­ing about sex­ual ha­rass­ment, some for the first time. And a Florida Se­nate panel voted to man­date an hour­long course.

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.

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