California’s Senate to Hand Over All Sexual Abuse Complaints to Outside Legal Team

SACRAMENTO -- The California state Senate has announced that it's changing the way it handles complaints of sexual abuse, harassment and assault.

This comes in light of a flood of allegations against former and sitting lawmakers and a movement in which more than 200 female legislators, staff members and lobbyists signed a letter stating they’d been the victims of sexual assault in some form.

The State Senate Rules Committee, which normally handles complaints about harassment, will be replaced by an independent, outside legal team, according to a statement from members of the committee.

The current committee is made up of lawmakers, whereas the new, outside legal team would presumably be made up of people outside the Capitol.

Many who’ve gone through the process of filing a complaint through either the Senate or Assembly Rules Committee, like current lobbyist Amy Brown, say the system is flawed.

"It was an experience that left such a bad taste in my mouth,” said Brown, who was a 24-year-old Capitol staffer when she reported a lawmaker for inappropriate behavior to the rules committee.

"The inappropriate touching. The hand on the knee under the table…what he wanted to talk about was grooming me to have an inappropriate relationship with him,” said Brown.

The result of her complaint, however, was even more harassment. She says the man whom she accused threatened her with a slander lawsuit after her complaint was filed. Brown felt other lawmakers policing their own colleagues did not facilitate an unbiased environment.

"I don't feel like it was effective. They're colleagues of theirs,” said Brown.

"It's the nature of institutions to protect themselves. It's like having the fox guard the hen house. It's not a very good protection,” said Pamela Lopez with the We Said Enough campaign.

The State Senate is now acknowledging the way it handles sexual assault, abuse, or harassment claims has to change. Sunday night Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon announced an independent legal team will review all complaints, instead of the Senate's Rules Committee.

Lopez says changing the review process for abuse complaints is just a start.

"We want to keep the focus on the fact that this is an endemic problem that goes through not only the legislature but also the big lobby firms,” said Lopez.

The changes come in light of new accusations of inappropriate behavior against sitting state senator Tony Mendoza. In October, nearly 200 female staffers, lobbyists and lawmakers signed an open letter saying they'd been sexually harassed or abused in some form.