- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The California Assembly announced Tuesday it will hold public hearings in November aimed at improving its policies for stopping and investigating sexual harassment at the Capitol.

“The bottom line is harassers need to stop their abusive actions,” read a joint statement from Speaker Anthony Rendon and other Assembly leaders. “The rest of us need to call out harassment and abuse by its name and stigmatize this behavior each and every single time we see it.”

The announcement by Rendon, a Democrat, came a week after nearly 150 women who work for and with the Legislature released an open letter criticizing a Capitol culture that breeds sexual harassment.

The Senate announced Monday it would hire an outside investigator to look into allegations made in the letter and to reporters, including instances of unwanted touching and sexual advances.

Women who signed the letter are skeptical of both efforts, said Adama Iwu, a Visa lobbyist who started the letter. Women may not be willing to testify at the hearing or speak to the Senate’s hired investigator over fears they could face retaliation, she said.

“We are concerned about the divergent paths of the Assembly and the Senate,” Iwu said. “It is imperative that we work with outside experts as part of a public independent review with whistleblower protections.”

The Assembly hearings will be led by the Assembly Rules Subcommittee on Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention and Response, led by Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman. Its members include three men and three women.

The goal of the hearings will be to change the climate “that has allowed sexual harassment to fester,” ensure victims have a safe place to come forward without hurting their careers, and to make sure people who commit harassment face proportional consequences, the joint statement said.

The Rules Committee investigates complaints of harassment in the Assembly. It has reviewed 11 complaints of sexual harassment and gender bias in the past five years.

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