Capitol Alert

Sexual harassment complaints topic of California Assembly public hearings

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon observes the activity on the Assembly floor on the first day back following the holiday break on Jan. 4, 2017.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon observes the activity on the Assembly floor on the first day back following the holiday break on Jan. 4, 2017.

The California Assembly announced Tuesday that it will hold hearings next month to address recent complaints of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse at the Capitol.

The hearings, to be held by the Assembly Rules Subcommittee on Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation Prevention, will be open to the public and aim to identify policy changes in the Legislature that would allow employees to feel more comfortable reporting misconduct.

More than 300 female lawmakers, staff members, lobbyists and other women in the Capitol community have signed on to an open letter challenging a political culture that they claim has long swept harassment and abuse under the rug. Many say they declined to speak up about their experiences because of fears that they could face retaliation or lose their careers.

In a joint statement, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon; Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova; and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, said, “Ending sexual harassment is going to take a comprehensive effort.”

“These hearings will address the serious concerns that have been raised and will include a frank dialogue with the greater Capitol community,” they said. “As we move forward, we must remember that the bottom line is harassers need to stop their abusive actions. The rest of us need to call out harassment and abuse by its name and stigmatize this behavior each and every single time we see it.”

Cooley chairs the Assembly Rules Committee, which is responsible for investigating harassment complaints brought forward by employees. Friedman, who was among half a dozen lawmakers who signed the original letter, leads the subcommittee that will conduct the hearings.

Adama Iwu, a lobbyist for Visa who helped organize the anti-sexual harassment campaign, expressed skepticism about the Assembly’s plan.

“We believe it would be morally irresponsible to ask any victim of discrimination, harassment or abuse to testify with no legal guarantee against retaliation,” she said in a statement. “Furthermore, we are concerned about the divergent paths of the Assembly and the Senate. It is imperative that we work with outside experts, as part a public independent review with whistleblower protections, to address the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the capital community.”

The Senate announced yesterday that it is hiring two law firms to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and review its policies for handling complaints. A spokesman for Rendon said the Assembly would not be following suit because it already has a practice of referring some sexual harassment and gender discrimination complaints to an outside investigator.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff