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Politics California lawmakers to confront sexual misconduct scandal

13:06  02 january  2018
13:06  02 january  2018 Source:   ap.org

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In this July 17, 2017 photo, Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, listens at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. California lawmakers will grapple for the first time as a group with a growing sexual misconduct scandal when they return to Sacramento. Reyes sits on the Assembly subcommittee tasked with re-writing the Legislature's sexual harassment policies. She was sharply critical during a hearing last month of the Assembly's policy of not tracking sexual harassment complaints, only investigations. She wants to mandate better tracking by the Legislature and by all employers. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) © The Associated Press In this July 17, 2017 photo, Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, listens at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. California lawmakers will grapple for the first time as a group with a growing sexual misconduct scandal when they return to Sacramento. Reyes sits on the Assembly subcommittee tasked with re-writing the Legislature's sexual harassment policies. She was sharply critical during a hearing last month of the Assembly's policy of not tracking sexual harassment complaints, only investigations. She wants to mandate better tracking by the Legislature and by all employers. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers will grapple for the first time as a group with a growing sexual misconduct scandal when they return to Sacramento on Wednesday.

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The 2018 legislative year will bring debates over legislation to boost protections for victims and people who report sexual misconduct, as well as both chambers' continued efforts to improve their own policies for handling misconduct.

On the very first day back, the Senate must confront how to handle one of its members, Sen. Tony Mendoza, who has refused calls to step aside amid an investigation into his alleged inappropriate behavior toward young women who worked for him.

"This is certainly not something we thought we'd be working on," Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino said. "We're finally going to be able to get it right and make sure any injustices in the past we can correct and that moving forward, everyone who works in the Capitol can feel like they can come forward."

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That's not all that's on lawmakers' plates. Within a week of their return, Gov. Jerry Brown will submit his final budget proposal, kicking off six months of negotiating on how California should raise and spend money. Proposals that stalled last year on bail reform, single-payer health care and expanding renewable energy also will be back for debate.

Still, sexual misconduct will be a dominant theme. A letter circulated in mid-October by lobbyists, lawmakers, legislative staffers and other political consultants cited a pervasive culture of harassment in California's Capitol. Women eventually came forward with specific allegations that prompted Democratic Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, both of Los Angeles, to resign.

Mendoza, meanwhile, denies allegations against him and says an investigation will clear his name. But Republican Sen. Andy Vidak said he'll move to expel Mendoza when the Senate reconvenes, setting up a potentially fraught showdown on the Senate floor.

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Legislatively, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez will bring forward for the fifth time a bill that would give whistleblower protections to legislative employees who report ethical violations, including sexual misconduct. The Senate has killed her bill four times.

Dozens of women have said they do not report misbehavior by lawmakers or legislative staff because they are afraid of losing their jobs or facing other professional repercussions. Several former Mendoza staffers have accused the Senate of firing them because they reported his overtures to a young woman who worked for him, something the Senate and Mendoza deny.

Melendez, of Lake Elsinore, has been tweeting the names of every lawmaker who has agreed to co-sponsor the measure as a means of ramping up pressure on the Senate. The bill has historically passed the Assembly with bipartisan support.

Leyva, meanwhile, will introduce a bill that would ban nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements, both in the public and private sectors, which can stop the parties from speaking publicly about what led to the settlement.

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"Eliminating these secret settlements, the no-disclosure agreements, then the accused, the person who is doing the harassing, they have nowhere to hide," Leyva said. "They have to stop their behavior."

Two other planned Assembly bills would extend the period in which people can report sexual harassment claims at the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing and impose stricter rules for employers — including the Legislature — to track sexual harassment complaints. Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes of San Bernardino is backing both pieces of legislation.

Reyes sits on the Assembly subcommittee tasked with rewriting the Legislature's sexual harassment policies. She was sharply critical during a hearing last month on the Assembly's policy of not tracking sexual harassment complaints, only investigations. She wants to mandate better tracking by the Legislature and other employers.

"The only way that were going to know if there's a pattern is if we keep track of this," Reyes said.

Regarding the state budget, another top concern for lawmakers, the governor must submit his blueprint by Jan. 10. Lawmakers must send a final spending proposal to Brown, who is term-limited out of office, by mid-June.

The Assembly has already staked out budget priorities, including providing health care for people living in the state illegally and expanding a tax credit for the working poor. The Senate hasn't outlined its ideas.

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James Franco is stepping back from the spotlight as allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior emerge against him. The actor skipped Thursday’s Critics Choice Awards where he won the Best Actor honor for his role in The Disaster Artist. “He’s in a really bad place, so bad that he changed his phone number,” a source close to the situation told PEOPLE. “His close friends are trying to be there for him but it’s been hard – he’s only talking to a select group of people. For now, he’s just hiding out.” During an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyerson Wednesday, the actor addressed the sexual harassment allegations issued by a number of women on Twitter after wearing a Time’s Up pin at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. “There are people that need to be heard,” the 39-year-old actor told Meyers. “I have my own side of this story, but I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will hold back things that I could say, just because I believe in it that much,” he said. “So if I have to take a knock because I’m not going to try and actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much.” One accuser, The Breakfast Club star Ally Sheedy, who worked with the actor in 2014 on his Off-Broadway directorial debut, The Long Shrift, wrote in now-deleted tweets, “Why is James Franco allowed in? Said too much.” Adding “James Franco just won. Please never ever ask me why I left the film/tv business.

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