The wave of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations that began with Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood has now swept into state capitols across the country. State lawmakers and others are facing serious allegations, and legislators are trying to figure out how to deal with the fallout.
The sexual allegations have started new police investigations and changes in policies. In one case, there has been quick punishment for a top state legislator.
On Nov. 6, Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Jack Latvala was removed as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee after allegations of sexual harassment from seven different women.
According to Florida Senate President Joe Negron, the third party investigation of Latvala is ongoing, but it is in the best interests of the Senate for a different senator to serve as the chair of that committee.
The women who have made sexual harassment allegations against Latvala say the behavior goes back several years. Some of the complaints include touching their private parts without their consent. Some of the women also stated that they felt degraded because the man made comments about their breasts and weight.
For his part, Latvala has said that the allegations are ‘fake news.’
But the sexual harassment allegations are not just restricted to Florida. The Legislative Ethics Commission in Illinois announced that ex-federal prosecutor Julie Porter had been chosen to investigate several sexual harassment complaints at the state capitol in Springfield. The post being held by Porter was vacant for nearly 24 months. It has been reported that she has a backlog of cases of at least 27 against various members of the Illinois General Assembly.
At the same time, the Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, is proposing a new law that requires sexual harassment training for all workers in the capitol. Also, almost 300 signatures have been gotten to date in an open letter that describes sexual harassment against women who are working on political campaigns or in the state legislature.
The letter reads that all industries have its own versions of the casting couch. If you ask any woman who has worked in the halls of the state capitol or spent many hours on the campaign trail, violence against women is alive and well in politics.
In the state of Kentucky, Governor Matt Bevin has called for the resignation of lawmakers or government employees who have settled any sexual harassment claims. Bevin claimed that there have been a number of allegations in recent weeks in the state that would suggest that some people in the legislature and in the capitol have not been true and faithful. The allegations were not denied and are becoming further corroborated.
The comments from the Kentucky governor have come after fellow Republican and state House Speaker Jeff Hoover came to a settlement about a complaint that involved what were termed to be ‘sexually explicit texts’ with a female staffer. Another staffer who is a woman stated that she was put on paid leave for complaining about a workplace environment that was toxic.
Meanwhile, in California, it was reported that state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon had hired two firms to investigate several sexual harassment and sex crime claims. In the last five years, the state legislature has paid out at least $580,000 to settle several cases that involved racism and sexual harassment. One of the payouts was for $100,000 and involved a staffer in the legislature who claimed that she was fired after she stated that an assemblyman in the legislature exposed himself to her.
In Oregon and Rhode Island, lawmakers also have spoken out about colleagues that they claimed had made inappropriate comments and advances. Some of them claimed that senior colleagues were suggesting that sexual favors could be given to get bills passed.
Experts in sexual harassment say that part of the problem is trying to reverse a culture where people who report sexual harassment are afraid of retaliation that could harm their careers. But, more and more lawmakers are coming out and talking about their own experiences in this area, so states are trying to put more protections in place to prevent them from happening again.
In Washington DC, four national senators have spoken up about experiences with inappropriate sexual behavior, as well. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has talked about the sexual harassment that she faced when she was a young legislator decades ago. She claims that when she worked in the state legislature in the 1980s, she asked the speaker of the Missouri House how to get a piece of legislation out of committee. He looked at her and said, well, did you bring your knee pads?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts also has recounted how she was sexually harassed when she was a beginning law professor. She said that a male colleague often made inappropriate jokes, talked about what she wore and invited her to his office. She added that the colleague closed the door to his office and lunged at her, as well.