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California LegislatureSexual harassment

California's Senate to hand over all sexual abuse complaints to outside investigators

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

In the wake of new allegations against a California state senator and criticism of a "pervasive" culture of sexual harassment, the leader of California's Senate said Sunday that all abuse complaints will now be handled by independent investigators and more information will be released to the public.

“The people who work here and the public we serve must have complete confidence that no public official is above the law or our strict zero-tolerance harassment policies," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). "Those who violate these policies will be held to account — swiftly and justly."

De León announced on Sunday that the state Senate Rules Committee, the governing body that also handles human resources for the upper house's employees, will transfer "any and all allegations" of sexual harassment to an independent legal team with the power to discipline those who are found responsible.

The change in policy comes after new allegations of inappropriate behavior with a former employee have come to light against state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia). The woman told her story on Saturday to the Sacramento Bee. The newspaper reported that a spokesman for Mendoza called the woman's allegations "completely false." Her current supervisor, Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), posted on Facebook on Saturday that he trusts "her completely" in telling the story.

The decision to hand over sexual harassment investigations from senators and staff to an outside law firm, which has yet to be hired, was made in consultation with Democratic women in the Senate. 

"These reforms are about trust, about justice and about time," De León said in a statement, "and I thank my colleagues, especially our women's caucus, for making them an urgent priority."

The announcement came as De León opted to move out of a Sacramento suburban home he shared with Mendoza. A spokesman said Sunday night that De León is looking for new housing options in the capital city.

Last week, allegations surfaced that Mendoza had invited a legislative fellow to the house. A joint statement from members of the Senate Rules Committee on Sunday called the allegations against Mendoza "troubling."

De León also announced what appeared to be a change in policy regarding Senate disclosure of abuse allegations, following reporting by The Times last week that officials were denying public access to some of the broad data covering allegations made over the past decade. The new policy, according to the news release, is that "general findings" will be made public. It did not appear, however, that the Senate would apply the new guidelines to records from past complaints — only noting that data would be made available on "current complaints, allegations and open investigations."

One of the leaders of the effort to highlight sexual harassment issues, Adama Iwu, applauded the decision in a post on Twitter but also said that there needs to be "ONE process for the entire Capitol community."

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