California Assembly and Senate lawmakers will come together Wednesday to address allegations of rampant sexual misconduct at the Capitol for the first time as a unified front.
A joint legislative panel is tasked with reforming the Legislature's policies for handling sexual harassment allegations, including how to discipline members and protect victims and others who speak up. The panel will hear from national and state experts and take public comment.
Until now, the Assembly and Senate have worked separately to address misconduct allegations that forced two lawmakers to resign and a third to take a leave of absence.
"I'm determined that we get this right, so that we can protect victims and establish policies and procedures for the entire legislature with true accountability and transparency," said Democratic Assemblyman Laura Friedman, the committee chair.
The committee's meeting comes as the Legislature continues to grapple with the fallout from an open letter published in October by 150 women lobbyists, political consultants, lawmakers and legislative staff members detailing a "pervasive'' culture of sexual harassment in Sacramento.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon both promised on Jan. 5 to release documents related to sexual harassment claims against "a high-level legislative employee or legislator'' if discipline was imposed or the allegations were substantiated. Their promise comes after months of refusing to release such details in response to public records requests.
They have not provided a date for releasing the documents. At a Dec. 14 press conference, de Leon said the Senate would respond more fully to records requests within 30 days, but the Senate has yet to release documents.
Also in the upper chamber, Sen. Tony Mendoza is set to return soon from a paid leave of absence he took amid an investigation into allegations he behaved inappropriately toward young women who worked in his office. He's continued to carry out legislative duties, even showing up once at the Capitol, causing friction with Democratic leaders. He's said an investigation will clear his name.