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With 14 harassment investigations in motion, how do lawmakers handle the throng of accused?

By in Press Enterprise on February 8, 2018

By CALmatters

By Laurel Rosenhall, CALmatters

Under investigation for sexual harassment—including allegations that he invited a young staffer to come home with him—state Sen. Tony Mendoza agreed on Jan. 3 to take a month-long leave of absence from the California Legislature.

But a week later, the Democrat from Artesia showed up in the Capitol and lingered until the leader of the Senate told him to leave. Mendoza instead returned to his Los Angeles area district and resumed routine duties: He presented resolutions to community groups, spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event and escorted high school seniors on a district tour. His staff even sent out emails recruiting interns for the spring semester.

Mendoza’s behavior showed he had “no decency and little respect for the institution,” Senate leader Kevin de León told reporters last month. Even so, the Senate refused to use its constitutional authority to formally suspend him. Instead, the day before Mendoza’s voluntary leave was to end, senators rushed to create a new rule allowing them to extend it. After an hour of feverish debate, the Senate passed the rule so hastily that it wasn’t even in its final form.

If nothing else, the debacle illustrates that the Legislature is struggling to figure out how to respond to the revelations of sexual harassment that have swept the state Capitol.

Not that there has been no response. Just this week Gov. Jerry Brown signed a long-stalled bill granting whistleblower job protections to legislative staffers who report misconduct. Last week, the Legislature released records disclosing, for the first time, substantiated harassment complaints against 18 lawmakers and staffers over the last decade. It has set up a hotline for employees to report problems and seek counseling. And a bipartisan panel of lawmakers has launched hearings meant to ultimately overhaul how the Legislature tries to prevent harassment […]    

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