Lawmakers Press for Changes to Capitol Sexual Harassment Policies

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SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers raised concerns Tuesday that the current mechanism through which victims of sexual harassment report abuses at the Capitol is simply not working.

The State Assembly subcommittee on Harassment and Discrimination held its first official hearings to discuss the pervasive culture of sexual harassment within the state capitol. Victims testified about their experiences.

"Those who’ve abused their power to perpetrate sexual harassment or sexual assault against their colleagues, they prey on powerlessness,” said Pamela Lopez. She was among the first women to go public about being sexually harassed through her work in state politics.

For Lopez, coming forward initially wasn’t easy.

"We experience this we start to crumble under the pressure of feeling unsafe,” said Lopez. As she and others share their stories, lawmakers asked pressing questions about why the process for victims to report assault and abuse is so inefficient.

“Does anyone here believe the current policy is working?” asked Assemblyman Vince Fong, a Republican from Bakersfield, to members of the Assembly Rules Committee, the body responsible for investigating harassment claims.

"How many times are you aware in the last, let's say five years, of substantiated and serious allegations brought about?” asked Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who chairs the subcommittee on harassment and discrimination.

The response she was initially given was that there haven’t been any investigations within the past three years against sitting members of the legislature.

Ken Cooley, who chairs the rules committee acknowledges it’s a problem.

"Oh gosh yes. I totally think we will rewrite our policy. This hearing is the first opportunity for the legislature to say in a very public way, whatever's gone on is unacceptable,” said Cooley.

“We have a lot of deep learning as a community to do about how pervasive this problem is, and a lot of listening to do to the youngest, most vulnerable among us about how pervasive this problem is,” said Lopez during testimony.

Lawmakers and victims both are hoping hearings like this spark the culture change the capitol's needed for far too long.

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