The Texas Senate has adopted a new sexual harassment policy that mandates in-person anti-sexual harassment training for senators and offers more details on specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.
The Senate’s policy, which was sent out to Senate staffers on Wednesday, was expanded from a one-page document to a more extensive set of guidelines that provide detailed examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and more thoroughly explain the ways victims can get help through internal and external complaint processes.
The revisions come months after the The Texas Tribune detailed a wide range of harassment in state politics and the scant protections offered to victims through the chambers' policies, and after The Daily Beast detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature. Those accounts included specific allegations against Democratic state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Both have denied the allegations.
Like in the House — where lawmakers revised the chamber’s policy in December — the Senate’s training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune.
In a letter to her colleagues obtained by the Tribune, Senate Administration Chair Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, indicated a list of lawmakers who have completed the training would be available to the public. But the chamber’s policy does not appear to set any sort of immediate deadline for current elected officials.
Instead, the revised policy indicates that in-person training will be offered every two years and that new employees must complete an online training within the first 30 days of their employment.
The policy was also revised to specifically state that senators will not be involved in investigating other senators, leaving investigations to the chamber's human resources director and "impartial attorneys."
But questions remain about how senators, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.
Democratic lawmakers, including some senators, had called for the creation of an independent investigative entity with power to truly hold officials accountable if they were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers.
The Senate’s revised policy instead indicates that the results of investigations will be reported to the secretary of the Senate — who reports to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — and that “the Senate or the appropriate supervisor will take the appropriate action to resolve the problem.”
It’s unclear whether Kolkhorst’s committee, which took up the issue in a December hearing, will consider additional changes to the chamber’s policy. Earlier this month, Speaker Joe Straus — a Republican who will retire early next year — formed a work group in House to recommend additional measures to address sexual harassment at the Capitol.