Senate panel begins discussion about sexual harassment policy


Senators discussed recommendations for a new policy in light of sexual misconduct allegations at the Capitol.

The House recently adopted a new policy.

The Texas Senate could meet in the coming months to establish a new sexual harassment policy.

Amid reports of sexual misconduct by staffers and lawmakers at the Capitol, members of the Senate Administration Committee met Thursday to discuss possible changes to the policy.

Committee Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said she plans to make recommendations to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw.

“It’s the beginning of a process,” Kolkhorst said.

Thursday’s meeting followed allegations, published in the Daily Beast, that Democratic Sens. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio and Borris Miles of Houston engaged in sexual misconduct. Both refuted the claims. Neither senator serves on the Administration Committee.

READ: ‘PATHETIC’: Texas AG aide resigns after criticizing ‘#MeToo’ movement

“The reality is that this is a human resources issue, but it is also a human respect issue,” Kolkhorst said. “On one hand, we must always strive for a policy that protects everyone’s dignity and their ability to feel safe. And on the other hand, we must respect everyone’s right to be presumed innocent until investigative facts prove otherwise.”

Kolkhorst said that in conversations with senators, they have said sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all employees and senators, but lawmakers in both chambers have agreed such a policy can’t be enforced for an elected official. Kolkhorst and other members of the committee, though, said the Senate could use other mechanisms to force training, including with a “caucus resolution” or by tying training to access to benefits. That type of action would require all senators to be involved in the decision.

“We need unanimity on this,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who also called for a review of policies from throughout the country to establish best practices.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said a new policy should spell out how staff should respond to a complaint while ensuring an accuser’s protection.

READ: Blake Farenthold won’t seek re-election amid sexual harassment claims

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, questioned whether lawmakers should be involved in investigating sexual harassment allegations and called for an independent body to handle such complaints. Garcia, who isn’t a member of the committee, added that the more people involved in making a new policy, the better.

During the hearing, Spaw revealed that only one sexual harassment claim had been made in her time as secretary of the Senate. It was in 2001, her first year on the job, and involved two staffers, she told senators. Garcia said she was surprised by the number and said later that more people would come forward if they became more comfortable with reporting misconduct.

The House Administration Committee unanimously approved an updated sexual harassment policy this month that gives examples of such harassment, offers guidance for internal and external complaint processes and lays out counseling information. The policy also mandates sexual harassment training for staff and members.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state
Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state

Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy. The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands...
Texas joins legal battle against tree firm blamed in 2011 Bastrop fire
Texas joins legal battle against tree firm blamed in 2011 Bastrop fire

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Friday joined hundreds of other people in suing a tree-trimming company they blame for the 2011 fire that ravaged Bastrop State Park and Bastrop County. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., the lawsuit argues, diverted crews away from tree-trimming along the power lines it was responsible...
TRAFFIC UPDATE: All lanes of I-35 in Buda now open after crash, police say 
TRAFFIC UPDATE: All lanes of I-35 in Buda now open after crash, police say 

7:15 p.m. update: The crash has been cleared and all lanes of northbound Interstate 35 are now open, Buda officials said. 7:05 p.m. update: No major injuries have been reported in a crash that has shut down most of northbound Interstate 35 in Buda, city officials said Friday evening.  Three vehicles were involved in the wreck, officials said....
U.S. judge orders fixes to ‘still broken’ Texas foster care system

The Texas foster care system remains broken and continues to place children at risk, a federal judge ruled Friday, adding that state officials have shown a “troubling unwillingness” to fix problems the court had identified in a similar 2015 order. Overruling numerous objections raised by lawyers for Texas, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham...
Man arrested after Burnet County road rage shooting involving officer

BURNET COUNTY Man arrested after officer-involved shooting Austin police have arrested a suspect who a Cottonwood Shores man said shot at his family and an off-duty Austin police officer in an apparent road rage incident in Burnet County. An off-duty Austin police officer stopped along RM 1431 during the November incident and intervened at the time...
More Stories