San Jose Mercury News - 10.23.2017
Editorial: #Metoo Reaches Sacramento, Where Lawmakers Live By Different Rules [article]
By Mercury News Editorial Board | Mercury News
PUBLISHED: October 22, 2017 at 8:30 am | UPDATED: October 23, 2017 at 5:06 pm
Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated. Not in the White House. Not at Fox News. Not in Hollywood.
And not in the state Capitol.
The fallout from this month’s reports of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s epic of unwanted advances has reached Sacramento. The sunshine cast last week on California government reveals a culture as obnoxious as Washington’s and Hollywood’s.
Could this explain why legislation to stem Capitol harassment has been blocked in the Senate four years in a row?
State legislators who trumpet their record on minority and women’s rights should apply the same rules to themselves and their employees.
For a while, it seemed that the nation had become numb to reports of abusive behavior. So many voters dismissed Donald Trump’s crotch-grabbing braggadocio as “boys will be boys” last year that they elected him president.
But Weinstein’s behavior really struck a nerve. Women took to Facebook in droves last week with their #MeToo stories of harassment. Suddenly, the problem was impossible to ignore.
In Sacramento, more than 300 women have now signed an open letter denouncing pervasive sexual harassment there.
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different,” they wrote. “It has not.”
The signers included legislators, retired lawmakers, lobbyists, campaign consultants and officials from both parties. This is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It’s everybody’s problem.
“Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces.”
It’s a statement women in most professions might echo.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, it’s not new in the Capitol. Over the past two decades, the Legislature has settled at least five sexual harassment lawsuits. That’s probably a small fraction of abuses. As in Hollywood and in the sexual assaults Trump described committing, few women have spoken up. They needed their jobs. They knew the men who harassed them could ruin them.
This year, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, introduced a bill to strengthen whistle-blower protections for the Legislature’s employees, who don’t have the same protections as other state employees. Her bill, coauthored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, passed the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committee with no opposition.
But, like nearly identical bills Melendez introduced in the three prior years, this one died in the Senate Appropriations Committee in a secretive process applied to bills that might have costs.
Costs? No kidding. More settlements.
The office of the committee chairman, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not respond when we asked why AB 403 was killed.
Hollywood has to clean up its own mess, perhaps with the help of police. The Capitol’s is a public responsibility. Melendez should persist, and the fate of her legislation should be determined in public, not behind closed doors. It requires open debate.
We’ll be watching.