Outrage over pervasive sexual misconduct at the California state Capitol is culminating in hearings to change rules that women say have allowed abuses. An Assembly Rules Subcommittee met for the first time Tuesday to begin undertaking a tricky, public self-reform.
Rules Committee chair, Democrat Ken Cooley, fielded harsh questions from his own committee members, as the first witness, describing the chamber’s current sexual harassment policy.
“Does anyone here believe the current policy is working?” Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong asked Cooley and staff who oversee the policy.
There was a 7-second pause.
“Well, I think it’s working, but I don’t think it’s achieving its intended purpose,” Cooley said. “It does produce discipline and those sorts of things, it does comply with the law, but again this is about how our workforce feels when they come here to work.”
Hundreds of women have signed on to a letter describing rampant sexual harassment and abuse, but Assembly staff report undertaking only eight investigations in the past six years—and none against lawmakers, even as a top Democrat resigned Monday after multiple allegations.
Organizers of the letter testified that a power imbalance between victims and their abusers, and a fear of retaliation, deters them from utilizing the system.
“What everybody here knows is that we have rapists in this building,” said Christine Pelosi, who chairs the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and is legal counsel for the We Said Enough campaign against abuses at the Capitol.
“We have molesters among us,” Pelosi said. “There are perpetrators, enforcers and enablers in this building, causing a clear and present danger to the public and to the people here.”
We Said Enough is calling for new protections for victims of abuse and witnesses, a confidential hotline for anonymous reports, an independent investigator for all claims, and a unified process in both chambers, which would require the Senate to buy-in.
Democratic subcommittee chair Laura Friedman voiced support for their recommendations.
“It is my commitment to you that we’re going to do our best here to end that culture,” she said.
The next hearing will likely take place in January. There’s no timeline to change the current sexual harassment policy.