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Government and Politics
Nicole Grant says she was groped by a lawmaker and a lobbyist while working as a lobbyist in Olympia for electrical workers between 2010 and 2016.For years, women who work at Washington state’s Capitol have quietly spoken among themselves about their experiences with sexual harassment. Veteran lobbyists and staff members warn women who are new to the job to be careful around certain male lawmakers. There is even a list in circulation. Despite the whispers and the rumors, women have been reluctant to come forward to tell their stories publicly. But when the Harvey Weinstein story broke and the #MeToo movement launched, things changed. Women began to speak more openly about a culture where men in power acted at times inappropriately, at times unprofessionally, and at times illegally towards female staff, lobbyists and others who work in and around the Legislature.On October 31, 2017, reporters Austin Jenkins and Walker Orenstein broke open the veil of secrecy around sexual harassment in Olympia (http://nwnewsnetwork.org/post/women-washington-state-capitol-say-me-too). Other news outlets followed, and the result was a series of reforms promised by legislative leaders aimed at changing behavior at the Capitol and also providing a safer space for women to report harassment.Here are some of their stories from 2017.

New code of conduct to shift how Legislature deals with sexual harassment

Washington House representatives listen to testimony, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, before they unanimously voted to approve a code of conduct for the Legislature in Olympia, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press
Washington House representatives listen to testimony, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, before they unanimously voted to approve a code of conduct for the Legislature in Olympia, Wash.

The handling of sexual harassment in the state Legislature will evolve following a new code of conduct that has already passed one chamber.

The unanimous resolution was passed in the House, and it’s the first bill of the 2019 legislative session to change the chamber’s workplace culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

It’s also the first policy to come out of the Workgroup on Prevention of Sexual Harassment, which was started in the House after 200 women signed a letter demanding that legislative leadership address the issue of workplace culture. 

Since that letter, four state lawmakers have resigned or been voted out following allegations of misconduct.

The new code asks lawmakers, lobbyists and staff to agree on a set of expectations that excludes bullying, harassment or other intimidating behavior that runs anathema to a safe legislative space.

An identical measure is expected to be voted on in the Senate next week. By passing both, members of the Capitol hope to establish a uniform approach to sexual misconduct in the Legislature.

“If we can’t protect our staff in the House and Senate how do we have the moral authority to tell state agencies and private business and local governments how to protect their workers?” state Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said in favor of the new code.

Capitol-goers who refuse to sign the code would also face penalties.

For policymakers, that includes losing access to their some of their staff. Lawmakers and staff would similarly be allowed to refuse meeting invitations from lobbyists who don’t sign.

The House workgroup also is recommending the creation of a new, independent entity that helps investigates complaints and offers consulting to people who question the behavior of colleagues.

Any new agency would require legislation — and funding to back it — which is why the chamber is contracting out those duties until policy is drafted.

Staff in the House also have revised their workplace policy to clarify acceptable behavior and how complaints should be handled.

The Senate, meanwhile, has created a new position to address inappropriate conduct that is temporarily being filled by the same person who investigated allegations of sexual harassment against former state Rep. Kevin Ranker.