'There are perpetrators...and enablers in this building'
As advocates and some lawmakers urge the California Legislature to overhaul its sexual harassment policies, the Assembly may soon establish a confidential hotline for reporting misconduct and begin tracking complaints.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who this week chaired an emotional hearing on sexual harassment at the Capitol, said in an interview Wednesday that she is pushing the Assembly administration to take immediate action on several issues identified by critics of the current system, while her committee brainstorms new procedures more broadly in the coming months.
“To change our whole process will take several months, but that doesn’t mean we’re not doing very real, tangible work during that time,” Friedman, D-Glendale, said.
Friedman said she has a conference call scheduled for Thursday to discuss with Assembly officials how to set up a confidential hotline right away. That has been a repeated request of We Said Enough, the organization of Capitol staff members, lobbyists and other women in California politics who sparked a discussion about “pervasive” sexual harassment with the publication of an open letter last month.
She said she would also push the Assembly to track sexual misconduct complaints it receives, not just the investigations that it completes, and keep its records for “much, much longer” than the current retention policy of six years.
Committee members at the hearing on Tuesday slammed administrators for being unable to provide a number of complaints that could give them a scope of the problem. Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, noted that it could be trouble for the Legislature if “the behavior has been there in the past and it is not being documented properly.”
“I personally don’t even think 12 years is long enough” for maintaining records, Friedman said, referring to the term limit for lawmakers. She said the Assembly should perhaps keep records of complaints and investigations for 30 years, given how long many staff members work at the Capitol.
There will likely be at least two more hearings in January, Friedman said, then the committee will draft new policies. She said a major focus will be bringing more rigor and objectivity to how legislators and senior staff members are disciplined if they sexually harass someone.
“We work too closely together. There are too many personal relationships,” Friedman said. “There’s always going to be a perception that something was done because of politics.”