The Assembly Rules Subcommittee on Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation Prevention and Response met yesterday to discuss how the institution will address and change the Assembly – and Senate’s – policies to address and fix the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the Building.
Earlier this week, Jon Fleischman gave a fairly comprehensive rundown of the allegations that have been dominating the news related to California’s Capitol. He also pointed out a procedural approach and four potential policy fixes. He called on Republicans to urge Governor Brown to call a Special Session to address this issue, and notes potential bills the Legislature could consider in that Special Session:
- A bill to establish that a law enforcement agency (perhaps the California Highway Patrol) has jurisdiction over investigations of allegations of sexual harassment in the Capitol. The idea is to put someone in charge of such investigations who is not beholden to legislators.
- The Melendez whistleblower protection bill that has been shoved into a legislative drawer for years.
- A bill to make sure that the legislature is subject to the California Public Records Act, like every other part of state government.”
The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that Assembly Member Kevin McCarty is floating that he may introduce legislation that would require lawmakers, not taxpayers – as has been the case in settlement payouts for sexual harassment settlements – to pay for their sexual harassment settlements.
“We could deduct their pay. If they’re a former legislator, we could go after them in the judicial process,” McCarty said. “Some people have suggested you don’t pay out at all. But that would mean some people who are harmed, harassed, have zero recourse.””
But perhaps the most important policy idea was raised in a question by Asm. Eloise Gomez Reyes. She asked Rules Committee staff about the number of complaints in the past three and half years registered against members of the Assembly. The response was that complaints were not tracked at all. This fact is stunning. Asm. Vince Fong followed up on her questions, asking, “Isn’t it a problem that we don’t track complaints?” Staff replied it was a valid point.
Among the arguments for tracking the number of complaints were: by tracking complaints, it helps set the tone that this conduct is unacceptable; the number of complaints can be used to identify trends and potentially get ahead of issues and address them before they become major issues.
Changing Rules Committee policy – if not changing the law to enshrine in statute – to ensure the number of complaints lodged against members of the Legislature and senior staff are tracked is critical and a very necessary first step.
There are other serious issues that were raised in hearing as well, such as: records of complaints and investigations are only held for six years – in the Assembly – even though members can be in office for twelve years; lack of confidence in the system’s ability to protect staffers who come forward with complaints; and lack of a level playing field for the complainant and the person the complaint is being lodged against.
There is also a lot from yesterday’s hearing that I’m leaving out. That is not to say that those other portions of the hearing are not important. Everything brought up in the hearing is incredibly important. However, I wanted to focus on the first steps the Assembly – and the Legislature more broadly – are taking and can take to make the necessary systemic changes to make the Building a safe work environment. Yesterday’s hearing is one of those first steps. Addressing the records issues – tracking complaints and retention of those records – is another critical first step. But these are just first steps on a long, long road to regaining the trust and confidence of the staffers who work in the Building and the voters who send elected officials to it.