RENO, Nev. (AP) — While other states have had more, high-profile cases, the Nevada Legislature has not been immune to allegations of sexual misconduct.
State lawmakers began to examine and expand their existing sexual harassment policy last spring, before Democratic state Sen. Mark Manendo’s resignation in July amid allegations of misconduct. A new reporting system for state legislative workers and others is expected to be adopted next year.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a freshman Democrat who previously served 10 years in the Legislature, has been the target of a House Ethics Committee investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed a campaign aide and a lobbyist. Kihuen has denied the allegations but announced he will not seek re-election next year.
A look at the sexual harassment policies and cases related to the Nevada Legislature:
Nevada lawmakers amended their standing rules on the final day of the last legislative session to subject lobbyists to the same sexual misconduct prohibitions that apply to legislators and their staffs. They also adopted a resolution directing the legislature’s administrative arm, the Legislative Counsel Bureau, to establish a formal procedure for the first time to field anonymous complaints. It must provide enough details of alleged incidents as well as the names of the people involved and of any witnesses “to allow an appropriate inquiry to occur.”
HOW MANY CASES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT HAVE BEEN ALLEGED OVER THE PAST DECADE?
One, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau. Manendo, a Las Vegas Democrat who served in the Legislature for 23 years, resigned in July following complaints that he violated the state’s anti-harassment policy and behaved inappropriately toward female staffers and lobbyists. The bureau said in response to a public records request from The Associated Press that since 2008, there is no record of any other lawmaker who was disciplined, expelled or resigned following such complaints. It also said there have been no payments to accusers or settlements that were kept confidential.
WHAT’S THE CURRENT POLICY?
Rules adopted by the Senate and Assembly and the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s proposed policy require people to apply their “own good judgment to avoid engaging in conduct that may be perceived by others as sexual harassment.” Both cite Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says that sexual harassment “means unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” And both generally prohibit any threats or demands to submit to sexual requests to keep a job, as well as offers of employment benefits in return for sexual favors.
DOES THE LEGISLATURE PROVIDE EXAMPLES OF INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR?
In addition to unwanted sexual advances, invitations or comments, the Legislature’s rules list such things as epithets, derogatory posters, photography, cartoons, drawings or gestures. It says unwanted touching, “blocking normal movement or interfering with the work directed at a person because of his or her sex” is prohibited.
The Legislative Counsel Bureau’s proposed language is a bit different. It adds requests for dates in exchange for favorable treatment to the list of prohibited actions. Other examples include unwelcome hugs, kisses or massages, the use of “sexually-oriented profanity” and making jokes about, or telling of “sexually offensive or degrading stories.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Along with establishing the first formal reporting system, the Legislative Counsel Bureau has been charged with developing a training program for all its employees. The policy also would apply to vendors, contractors and even visitors to bureau offices. New employees would be required to take the training within 30 days of hiring and all employees re-trained at least once every two years. Nevada Democrats announced last year they would initiate training for members of their caucus, but it’s not currently required of the Legislature. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said last month, “Times are changing, and we need to change with it.”