The vote for more training comes after allegations surfaced recently of sexual harassment involving two former state House lawmakers and calls for a culture change in the Legislature.
OLYMPIA — Moving to address concerns over sexual harassment at the state Capitol, a key Washington Senate committee has approved annual harassment-prevention training for senators and their staffers.
The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee on Tuesday evening voted to provide the training around the start of every legislative session.
Previously, senators and staff would get training in their first year, with sometimes a refresher course in subsequent years.
Tuesday’s meeting comes after allegations surfaced recently of sexual harassment involving two ex-House lawmakers.
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Last week, more than 170 women signed a letter that called for a change in the Legislature’s culture to end inappropriate behavior and harassment.
After those developments, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, wrote a letter to the committee recommending more frequent training.
“I think that it’s just very important for us to act swiftly and with certainty, to send a message to the people of this state who expect us to be the paradigm of ethical behavior,” Rivers said at the meeting. “Even though we may not always meet their standards.”
After the meeting, Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said training for those on the Democratic side of the Senate will go beyond a review of the policy.
“We want to do it much more in-depth, not just on the current policy,” said Nelson, a member of the committee who will be majority leader when the legislative session starts in January. “But what is sexual harassment? What kind of indicators are they? How can you intervene?”
The committee also approved posting its harassment policy online.
In a step toward addressing concerns about the treatment of lobbyists, the committee directed the Washington Public Disclosure Commission to provide notice of the Senate policy to lobbyists who register there.
Those on the committee also agreed that two female senators — Rivers and incoming Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond — would be liaisons on the issues for their respective caucuses.
Tuesday’s committee votes are an early step in what’s expected to be months of searching and discussions to make Olympia’s workplace culture safer.
Lawmakers are reviewing harassment policies and are meeting with lobbyists and staffers to get a better understanding of how to improve the climate at the Legislature.