Capitol Alert

New sexual harassment policies on the way, California lawmakers say

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, left, discusses the objectives of a joint legislative committee on sexual harassment prevention and response that she chairs on Jan. 24, 2018.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, left, discusses the objectives of a joint legislative committee on sexual harassment prevention and response that she chairs on Jan. 24, 2018. The Associated Press

The California Legislature's bicameral committee on sexual harassment pledged late last week to present recommendations for new policies by the end of June.

That's more than 250 days after women in the Capitol community published an open letter calling out "dehumanizing" behavior by powerful figures in state politics. The letter, eventually signed by more than 140 women, served as a rallying cry for victims of sexual harassment to tell their stories for the first time.

Without detailed policies in either house, leaders of the Senate and Assembly have independently grappled with a wave of sexual harassment complaints over the last six months. And there's no shortage of criticism over the Legislature's response.

One common complaint: It's taking too long for the houses to adopt bicameral policies to prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

The "legislative session has begun and is already nearing its end – with no comprehensive, transparent, independent and accountable process for our legislative community," said Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist and leader of "We Said Enough."

"The passage of whistleblower legislation, while significant, is not enough. Victims and survivors continue to walk the halls alongside perpetrators and there is still no trusted process."

The Senate quickly announced new guidelines to hire outside investigators to probe all allegations in response to complaints about former Sen. Tony Mendoza. The Assembly opted to hold hearings as two of its members resigned. We Said Enough, a nonprofit led by women who crafted the October letter, complained that two sets of policies were confusing and deterred victims from speaking up.

Then the Legislature unveiled the Joint Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response, led by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, on the first day of the legislative session.

After five hearings, the committee issued a progress report on Friday stating an intent to provide recommendations to change the Legislature's culture, adopt new policies and training and ensure independent investigation of complaints.

Mitchell and Friedman warned since the start that change wouldn't come overnight.

“We recognize that accomplishing these objectives will take time, but we must start now," the lawmakers said in a joint statement on Friday.

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